WASHINGTON -- The disabled list is finally getting shorter for the Nationals, with the late returns of Paul Lo Duca and Ronnie Belliard. The next National to come off the DL? It might be Austin Kearns.

Kearns has shown plenty of positive signs recently while coming back from right elbow surgery. He hit in a batting cage for the first time five days ago, and he's been working one drills before games the last few weeks.

Nationals manager Manny Acta said before Friday's game against Texas that Kearns' progress has put him in line to resume even more regular baseball activities soon.

"Pretty soon, he's gonna be on the field with the other players, taking batting practice," Acta said of Kearns' status, adding that no specific timetable has been placed on Kearns' return.

Acta also said Kearns would likely spend a fair amount of time out on a rehab assignment before returning to the Majors, since Kearns has been out for an extended period of time.

"Obviously he's been out for awhile now," Acta said. "It's not going to be a 2-3 game type of thing. He's going to get enough at-bats in the Minor Leagues."