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07/15/10 6:34 PM ET

Choo tests injured thumb in rehab program

CLEVELAND -- Shin-Soo Choo is still hoping to avoid surgery on his sprained right thumb, but first he'll have to prove the thumb can tolerate a return-to-hit program.

Choo initiated that program Tuesday, when he took 20 swings off a tee. On Thursday, as his Indians teammates reported to Progressive Field for a post-All-Star break workout, he took 30 swings in a soft toss session and also took fly balls in the outfield. Choo is hoping to take batting practice over the weekend. If all goes well, he'll join his teammates on next week's trip to Minnesota to continue his rehab program on the road.

The Indians still don't know when to expect Choo to be activated off the disabled list, and surgery remains a possibility if Choo has any significant setbacks. But if he avoids surgery, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could return by the end of the month.

"He's moving along pretty good," manager Manny Acta said.

Choo spent the break in Cleveland and visited with hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham at the Cleveland Clinic on Monday.

"He said the MRI results look bad, but he touched my thumb and moved it around and everything and said it's not as bad [as the MRI appears]," Choo said. "He doesn't think I have a torn ligament."

Choo injured the thumb while diving for a double by the A's Jack Cust on July 2. Initially, the injury was only expected to cost him a few games, but an MRI revealed it to be worse than initially expected. But a subsequent visit with Graham last week raised hope that Choo can avoid surgery, which would likely result in a six- to eight-week rehab.

If Choo has a setback during his return-to-hit program and does require the surgery, that could impact his ability to return to the Indians this season. The Indians are willing to risk that scenario if Choo can rehab without surgery and return much sooner.

Choo, who was batting .286 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 78 games this season, is wearing a brace on his right hand at night. When hitting, his thumb is taped with a splint, with a smaller brace giving additional support.

"I feel better every day," he said. "I've talked to [head athletic trainer] Lonnie [Soloff]. I want to come back as soon as possible, but I don't want to hurry and make it worse."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.