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04/22/07 3:30 PM ET

Notes: Wilkerson may return soon

Rangers left fielder working back from sore left knee

ARLINGTON -- Brad Wilkerson isn't likely to be available to the Rangers until Monday or Tuesday when they play the Mariners, but both the outfielder and Texas manager Ron Washington seemed encouraged by the diminishing pain in the player's sore left knee.

Wilkerson missed his fifth straight game Sunday, but he continued treatment for irritation in the patella tendon band of his left knee. Wilkerson said he first felt the discomfort during Spring Training, and he was surprised when it cropped up again last week.

"It's just one of those injuries where probably the only way to get better is through rest," said Wilkerson, who is batting .258 with two homers and 10 strikeouts in 31 at-bats this season.

Wilkerson, 29, has started only nine of the Rangers' first 18 games. He is coming off an injury plagued 2006 season that saw him bat just .222 and play only 95 games in his first season in the American League. The former Montreal-Washington outfielder had shoulder surgery last Aug. 22 that ended his season.

His knee trouble does not appear as serious. Wilkerson had a cortisone injection earlier in the week, and he said undergoing "five or six" treatment sessions on Saturday enabled him to take a big step toward returning to action.

"I'm going to take some batting practice and see how it feels," Wilkerson said before Sunday's series finale with the A's. "I'm hoping I'll be ready to go by [Monday]."

Washington said the team has no plans to place Wilkerson on the disabled list, even retroactively, because all indications are he will be available by the two-game series in Cleveland that starts Wednesday.

"We're covered right now," Washington said. "He's not hurting us right now [by remaining on the active roster]. If by [Monday] he's better, that's good. But even if he doesn't play tomorrow, we'll have him in Cleveland."

Eyre head: Right-handed reliever Willie Eyre, called up Saturday from Triple-A Oklahoma to replace lefty Bruce Chen, said he was excited to be back in the big leagues and eager to make his Rangers debut.

Eyre, the 28-year-old younger brother of Cubs pitcher Scott Eyre, made his Major League debut last season with Minnesota and spent the entire season with the Twins. He posted a 1-0 record and 5.31 ERA in 42 appearances before signing with the Rangers last December as a non-roster invitee to spring camp.

Eyre pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings for Triple-A Oklahoma before getting the promotion late Friday night, about 90 minutes before the RedHawks' scheduled bus ride to Round Rock, Texas.

"When I was sent down in the spring, it was disappointing," Eyre said. "Goose [Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor] showed a lot of interest in me this spring, but I knew they already had a lot of in-house guys they already knew about. I knew I just had to go down and do what I was supposed to do. I'm really excited to be here."

Back on the horse: Washington said he wanted to make a point of getting reliever Joaquin Benoit back on the mound Saturday night after the right-hander was battered Friday night for six two-out runs in the eighth inning of a 16-4 loss.

Benoit took the ball with a 1-0 lead in the seventh Saturday with one on and one out, and he responded with a perfect 16-pitch inning to keep the eventual three-hit shutout intact.

"I always liked his arm when I was in Oakland," said Washington, the longtime Athletics coach. "I always tell him how bad [formidable] he is, and he responds. It seems like he feeds off of somebody showing confidence in him."

Washington also reminded Benoit of the need to be "fierce" between the lines, no matter what the score is when he is sent to the mound.

"I think he needed to get back out there," Washington said.

Minors stars: The top three performances from the four the Rangers' Minor League teams on Saturday were:

Gold: Right-hander Frankie Francisco pitched two hitless innings to pick up the win in Triple-A Oklahoma's 6-5 victory over Round Rock. Francisco, who walked two but struck out five, has not allowed an earned run in five appearances spanning six innings this season. Francisco has walked three and struck out 14 while facing 23 batters.

Silver: Double-A Frisco catcher Salomon Manriquez hit a fifth-inning grand slam to help the RoughRiders to a 13-6 rout of Corpus Christi in the first game of a doubleheader split.

Bronze: Left fielder Jason Botts hit his first homer of the season for Oklahoma, a two-run shot in the seventh inning. Botts is hitting .180 after his 1-for-5 night.

He said it: "It's time, boys. It's time." -- Rangers catcher and avid Los Angeles Lakers fan Gerald Laird, who marked the opening of the NBA playoffs by wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey into the clubhouse Sunday.

Up next: Texas right-hander Kevin Millwood (2-2, 4.91 ERA) will face Seattle righty Cha Seung Baek (0-0, 0.00 ERA) on Monday in the opener of a two-game series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.