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02/27/11 4:00 PM EST

Blanks eases into game action

PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a cloudy afternoon Saturday, Kyle Blanks played five innings at first base during an intrasquad game.

Fewer than a dozen fans watched the game on a back field at the Padres' facility in Peoria. For Blanks, though, it meant something.

It was Blanks' first appearance in a game-type setting since June, when his season was cut short by an elbow injury that eventually led to reconstructive surgery on July 30.

Blanks wasn't allowed to throw the ball overhand on Saturday, nor was he allowed to hit in the intrasquad game, but being able to play defense in a game-type setting was a victory, even if it was a small one, in his mind.

"It's a good step, no matter how small. It's a step in the right direction. But I have to take it for what it is," Blanks said. "I can't really throw yet or hit live. But it's still a small step in the right direction for me."

Blanks, who was the Padres' Opening Day left fielder a year ago, is behind the rest of the position players in camp. He will likely remain behind in Arizona next month after camp breaks and might not appear in a Minor League game until May or possibly June.

For now, though, Blanks continues to take batting practice in the cage and test his elbow by playing catch.

"I hit every other day, and every three days I will throw. As far as the next thing, I can't tell you," Blanks said. "I do what they tell me and take everything in good time. ... I'm happy when I get increased activity."

His appearance in the intrasquad game represented "increased activity," though it's difficult to predict when he'll get more. Blanks' progress is determined by how his elbow is feeling.

"It's gone fairly smooth. The biggest issue I deal with is the stiffness," Blanks said. "I've been told that's something that will be there for a while. For me, it's recognizing stiffness, as opposed to pain."

The 2010 season was essentially a loss for Blanks, who hit .157 in 33 games with 46 strikeouts in 120 plate appearances. He went on the disabled list in May with what was diagnosed as a strained elbow. He tried to rehab, but that didn't work. Blanks played his last game for Triple-A Portland on June 14.

He said one of the hardest parts about his recovery is not being able to join the rest of his teammates in daily drills.

"I do everything I can do, but when I'm done, everyone is still doing stuff," Blanks said. "But everything in good time. ... I don't want to jeopardize all the worked I've put in for one day of fun, which could turn out to be an even longer road of rehab."

At least now Blanks knows the toughest days of his rehabilitation are behind him now -- and that a return to games in which he won't be limited isn't too far away.

"Everyone I know who had the surgery is still playing, which is a positive sign for me," Blanks said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.