ARLINGTON -- Josh Hamilton had another good day swinging the bat and is expressing optimism that he can be in the lineup as early as Friday. Hamilton, who is sidelined with two small fractures in his right rib cage, took 10 swings off a tee Wednesday morning at the Ballpark in Arlington and another 40 off of soft-toss pitching. He reported no problems before going out to run the bases. Hamilton said he started out swinging at 80 percent and finished up at 95 percent without any difficulty. The next step for Hamilton will be to start taking batting practice against live pitching, either later Wednesday or Thursday. If that goes well, he could be the Rangers' designated hitter on Friday against the Angels.
That would give him three games to get ready for the postseason. The Rangers' first playoff game is scheduled for Wednesday against either the Yankees or the Rays. "It went real good," Hamilton said. "If I release my top hand when I swing [and finish one-handed], then I don't feel anything." Hamilton, who leads the Major Leagues with a .361 average and has 31 home runs and 97 RBIs, has not played since Sept. 4, when he fell into the center-field wall while making a catch at Target Field in Minnesota. There is still the question of getting his timing back and how much discomfort he can handle in the playoffs. He is not only dealing with the fractures in the ribcage but also spasms in a back muscle that he has been successfully treating with heat. "If he says he's ready to go, I'm going to start getting him some at-bats," manager Ron Washington said. Washington said the Rangers are not considering letting Hamilton get at-bats in a simulated game against his own pitchers. "When Hamilton is ready, he's going to get the real deal and we'll take whatever he can give us," Washington said. "As talented as he is, he'll figure it out. It's hard to put expectations on him. We'll just put him in there and let him go." Washington also wants Hamilton ready to play defense. Washington will likely use Hamilton in center field against left-handers and in left field when the opposing pitcher is right-handed. The Rangers will likely use Jeff Francoeur in right and Nelson Cruz in left when there is a left-hander on the mound. When there is a right-hander, the Rangers will likely go with Julio Borbon in center and Nelson Cruz in right. David Murphy could also be in the mix against either side but Washington also wants Hamilton on defense. "When this stuff starts, he's a part of my defense," Washington said. "I'm going to put my best defense out there. When the ball is in play, we need to catch it. This is not going to be baby-sitting. We're not bringing in any nanny. "He's a talent. Maybe he can come in and look like he's never missed time. Just his presence will make a big difference come Wednesday."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.