Hamilton hitless, makes running grab in return

Hamilton hitless, makes running grab in return

ARLINGTON -- Josh Hamilton decided to start off in center field.

That's likely where he'll be in the first game of the playoffs anyway.

Hamilton returned to the Rangers' lineup on Friday night as their starting center fielder against the Angels. He played six innings and went 0-for-3 in Texas' 5-4 loss in 11 innings, and the plan calls for him to be used at designated hitter on Saturday and play nine innings on Sunday.

"I told [manager Ron Washington] that I'd like to play six innings in center field tonight," Hamilton said. "I want to get into game mode. I don't want to DH, sit around and tighten up. I want to be out there moving around."

Hamilton moved around in the top of the first. He tried to make a catch in the left-center gap on Bobby Abreu's double but fell down. Hamilton got up smiling and was ready to bat in the bottom of the first.

He came up with a runner on second with one out and came up swinging. He saw two pitches and popped them up foul both times. The second was caught by third baseman Alberto Callaspo for an out.

Hamilton batted again in the fourth and took three pitches before getting jammed on a 2-1 curveball from Jered Weaver. Hamilton hit a roller back to the mound and was thrown out easily by Weaver.

He had to wait until the sixth for his first catch. Abreu hit a drive to deep center and Hamilton raced back to get it, making the catch just before going onto the warning track. He did not make contact with the wall.

Hamilton came up again with a runner on second and one out in his final at-bat in the sixth. This time he hit a 1-1 pitch high into the gap in left-center that was easily caught by center fielder Peter Bourjos.

"I felt like it went well," Hamilton said. "I felt like my at-bats were good. My first at-bat, the foulout, that kind of [stunk]. I would have like to have seen more pitches, but overall, coming back, facing a guy like that for not seeing anything for a month, I feel like I did well. I was seeing the ball well."

Hamilton was in the lineup for the first time since he cracked two ribs in his right rib cage falling into a wall in a game against the Twins on Sept. 4. Hamilton has also been dealing with some tightness in a back muscle near the rib cage but has pronounced himself ready to go.

"It's good," Hamilton said. "It's been awhile but ... I'm not anxious. I know how it feels. It will feel good enough. I want to work on my timing, have good at-bats and not crash into walls."

There is that, but Hamilton promised to watch himself, at least for the final three games of the regular season. The Rangers have already clinched the American League West and there's nothing at stake here. The playoffs are a different story.

"These three games don't mean anything," Hamilton said. "It's like Spring Training. I can stay away from a wall. But it's back on again once the playoffs start. I'm not going to change the way I play.

"I just want to have good at-bats tonight. Not swing at three pitches out of the strike zone. See pitches, walk if I have to, hit the ball the other way, not try to hit a home run. There are a lot of ways to have good at-bats."

Hamilton will be the Rangers' center fielder in the playoffs when they face left-handers. They are likely to go against either CC Sabathia of the Yankees or David Price of the Rays in the first round. Under those circumstances, the Rangers will likely go with Jeff Francoeur in right and Nelson Cruz in left. That would leave Hamilton in center.