“The last two weeks before I got hurt, I really started feeling it,” Hairston said. “When I got hurt, I was really frustrated, because I really felt something coming on.”

Hairston has played in only two games since he came back from the disabled list Monday, and he started only one of them. But he hasn’t lost whatever he started feeling before his injury. Hairston went 3 for 4 with a homer and a double Tuesday in Houston, and last night he came off the bench and smoked a line-drive grand slam in the ninth inning in his second at-bat of the night.

“I worked really to try to play on that same plane, just trying to feel the same way,” Hairston said. “I’ve been swinging the bat the same way.”

Manager Davey Johnson rewarded Hairston with a start tonight in left field, having him replace Laynce Nix with a left-handed starter on the mound. Between Nix’s balky right Achilles’ tendon and Johnson’s proclivity for sitting him against lefties, Hairston could become a regular contributor.

For the season, Hairston is hitting .260 with a .335 on-base percentage and a .352 slugging percentage, which along with his versatile defense the Nationals probably would have taken when they signed him to a one-year, $2.1 million contract this offseason.

Hairston at least held his own while replacing Ryan Zimmerman at third base while Zimmerman underwent surgery. Hairston could be a viable, frequent contributor for the Nationals again. He may also become a desirable veteran bench player for a contender to pick up. But the return for Hairston probably wouldn’t be much, and the Nationals may find it more valuable to keep him around to provide clubhouse leadership and a versatile player. Whatever happens, Hairston, at the moment, is feeling it again.