(Alex Brandon /AP)

Slowly, the Nationals are becoming whole again and Scott Hairston was the first of the current crop of injured players to return. He was reinstated before Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers after missing 26 games while on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. He will return to his usual role — as an outfielder who plays primarily against left-handed pitchers and, with Bryce Harper out, will platoon in left field with Nate McLouth, who will primarily face right-handers.

“It’s great to be back,” Hairston said. “It was just a couple days but it felt longer than that. It’s always very welcoming to come back to the big league level. I’m ready to contribute. I feel good.”

Hairston said this is the third time in his career he has endured an oblique injury. He said his hips aren’t particularly flexible and his core gets stretched out as a result. He has focused on stretching more recently and gaining more flexibility. 

Hairston went to extended spring training in Viera, Fla. last week and then played in three minor league rehab games with Class AAA Syracuse. After a long layoff, he went 1 for 10 with two walks and four strikeouts with Syracuse. Finding his timing again was a challenge, and now his playing time will take an immediate hit while returning to the bench.

“I’m used to that role,” he said. “I’m more used to that than used to that than playing every day. I’ve been used to it my whole career. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue coming off the bench. It’s just one of those things where you turn the switch on and go back to where you used to go.”

Hairston could get plenty of playing time in the next week and a half. The Nationals are scheduled to face reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who is returning from the disabled list, on Tuesday. They could also face left-hander Scott Kazmir in Oakland and left-hander Wade Miley in Arizona.

With Harper on the disabled list, Manager Matt Williams had said he would use McLouth, Tyler Moore and Kevin Frandsen in left field. But with Hairston back and first baseman Adam LaRoche dealing with a lingering sore quad, Moore will be saved for first base duties. 

“The last couple of days Rochy has gotten a lot better because he hasn’t really had to stretch it,” Williams said. “But [Monday night] he may have to score from first. We’ve gotta look at that, too. Scotty just brings veteran capability in every aspect and he’s proven it. He hits lefties good.”

>>> Ryan Zimmerman was to have his weekly X-ray on his fractured right thumb Monday. The bone is still fractured, Zimmerman said, and he still isn’t ready to do grip exercises or hit. Zimmerman has been working out and lifting but not using his thumb, Williams said.

“I don’t do anything with it now,” Zimmerman said. “Just leave it in the [soft] splint.”

Broken fingers usually take four weeks to set and it has been three weeks since Zimmerman broke his thumb sliding back into second base on a pickoff move, Williams said.