CINCINNATI -- The road back to the Major Leagues took twists and turns that Jolbert Cabrera never foresaw.

Cabrera always figured that his versatility -- his man-of-many-gloves approach to playing the game -- would serve any Major League team well. He didn't necessarily figure wrong, either.

But after the 2004 season with the Mariners, Cabrera found himself playing professional baseball in Japan.

"It was only because of the money that I went," Cabrera said.

He got a paycheck in Japan larger than what Major League teams were offering him. So he went. Who wouldn't have?

It didn't hurt, Cabrera said, that he'd be given a chance to play every day for Fukuoka in the Japanese League. The team used Cabrera almost everywhere: Second, third and outfield, and Cabrera might have pitched if the team had asked him to.

Yet when he went to Japan, he never intended to make his stay there a permanent one. Cabrera knew he had more to give to a Major League team before he hung up his gloves.

So he decided, despite the money, to return to the United States. He spent '07 in the Minors, once again trying to prove he deserved a look.

The Cardinals liked what they saw, and they might have been interested in bringing Cabrera back to the bigs last season.

"But I got hurt," Cabrera said.

So there he was on the Minor League circuit, a proving ground for ballplayers like Cabrera who are trying to hold on for another taste of the bigs. After the '07 season, Cabrera signed a Minor League contract with the Reds.

His impressive play in Spring Training caught people's eye. He showed he was, even at 35, capable of playing in the Majors; he showed the Reds plenty of the veteran's smarts that endear an older player to a manager.

Now, he was just a call up away from getting back there.

On Tuesday, Cabrera, a native of Colombia, got that call up. On Wednesday, he had his named written into the Reds' starting lineup for the game against the Cardinals.

"He can play," manager Dusty Baker said. "I just want him to play, that's all -- to play and contribute."

He was spelling second baseman Brandon Phillips.

That's all right with Cabrera, who's spent part of six seasons in the bigs and knows what the expectations for a utilityman are.

"I'm healthy this year," Cabrera said, sitting in front of his locker. "I'm very glad and very thankful to God for the opportunity to be here."