ARLINGTON -- Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton showed up at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Wednesday morning with scrapes on his arms and wrists.
"I slipped," Hamilton said with a smile. "Right into the bag ... three times."
He did so on an eighth-inning lap around the bases in Tuesday's game against the White Sox, completing an impressive trifecta. Hamilton slid head-first into first, second and third base -- in one inning. Adrian Beltre flied out to right field before Hamilton could attempt the grand slam of head-first sliding into home plate.
But he has already done that. He did so in the first inning against the Tigers on April 12, trying to score on a foul pop when home plate was left uncovered. He suffered a fractured bone just below his right shoulder and was sidelined for six weeks.
"Josh plays the game the way he needs to play it."
-- Michael Young
Tuesday's game was just Hamilton's second after coming off the disabled list, yet there he was, diving his way around the bases. In doing so, Hamilton once again unintentionally ignited the discussion about exactly what he should or should not do on a baseball field in order to stay healthy.
Not that Hamilton is interested in joining the discussion.
"I couldn't care less," he said dismissively.
Hamilton is unrepentant. He insists he is going to keep playing hard, and the Rangers support that position.
"If my career gets shortened by injuries from playing hard or I didn't get 10 years in because I played hard, so be it," Hamilton said. "That's the way it's going to be. God gave me talent for a reason, and that's to use it to the best of my ability. It's not doing me justice or giving Him glory if I'm not using it.
"I don't want Him to ask me one day, 'What happened? I trust you, you trust Me.' There is a reason He made me the way I am."
The Rangers want Hamilton to play hard. They also want him to play smart. Hamilton believes he did so in 2010, and it allowed him to stay healthy for most of the season. He did miss most of September because of two fractured ribs, but he still ended up as the American League's Most Valuable Player.
Hamilton's jaunt around the bases on Tuesday night (actually early Wednesday morning in a rain-delayed game) ran the gamut from smart to fundamentally questionable.
The Rangers trailed, 7-6, with two outs and nobody on base when Hamilton came to bat. He hit a ground ball up the middle that shortstop Alexei Ramirez fielded on the outfield grass going to his left. But his throw was late, and Hamilton was safe with a head-first dive into the bag.
The Rangers don't teach sliding head first into the bag. They don't teach head-first slides at all, and specifically warn players about doing it into first base. First-base coach Gary Pettis, who instructs on all matters relating to running, stresses running through the bag.
"G.P. said he is going to fine me every time I dive head first into first base," Hamilton said.
The Harder they Come
Josh Hamilton has had four stints with the Rangers in which he's missed at least 10 games due to injuries incurred while playing defense or running the bases.
OF wall collision
Torn abdominal muscle
OF wall collision
OF wall collision
Slide into home
Hamilton, with Michael Young at the plate, then stole second. Again he dove head first into the base. But this was an excellent baseball play, stealing his way into scoring position with two out and the Rangers leading hitter at the plate.
"I just go when they tell me to go," Hamilton said.
Young then drew a walk. On ball four, the pitch bounced in the dirt and behind catcher A.J. Pierzynski ... but not far. Hamilton broke for third late and should have been out, but his head-first slide was so late and so bad, third baseman Brent Morel missed the tag.
"I thought the ball bounced farther away than it did," Hamilton said. "It all worked out. If it didn't, I would be answering different questions."
Actually he has been answering many of the same questions the past three years. The difference is suddenly it is his baserunning that's the issue. In the past it was his defensive style. He suffered three significant injuries in the previous two seasons while running into walls in the outfield, leaving people to wonder how he could keep that from happening again.
"Josh plays the game the way he needs to play it," said Rangers infielder Michael Young, another player who has a reputation for going all-out on every play. "People criticizing him for playing hard ... that's ridiculous. Josh needs to play the style of baseball he knows how to play. He needs to play the game the way it has made him successful."
Hamilton was the Rangers' designated hitter during their three-game series against the White Sox this week. At some point this coming weekend, Hamilton will return to the outfield during a three-game series with the Royals.
The Rangers' medical staff wanted Hamilton to play a few games at designated hitter before he went back to the outfield. Saturday would be the earliest he starts in the outfield. Then he'll start making people nervous with his all-out defensive style, which mirrors his baserunning.
"The wall is the biggest thing," Hamilton said. "The doctors feel my bone is healed enough where I can dive after balls. The only thing to worry about is landing in the exact same position, hitting it the same way and re-breaking it. What are the chances of that happening? I guess it could happen, but what are the chances?"
With Hamilton? Who knows? Two years ago he hit two straight foul balls on consecutive pitches into the stands, and they were caught by the same young fan. What are the chances of that?
But Hamilton is a premium defensive outfielder. The Rangers want him back in the field when he's ready -- and without conditions or limitations.
"Nobody has told me anything about what they expect from me or what they want me to do except just play baseball," Hamilton said.
That comes from Rangers manager Ron Washington, who said he does not fret about what might happen to Hamilton on the field. The Rangers know Hamilton's value as a player but also recognize the necessity of going all-out on every play.
"I tell him, 'Don't dive into first base,' but, other than that, I don't tell him much about anything," Washington said. "When we work on sliding practice, we don't work on sliding head first. But when a guy gets on base, I can't yell, 'Hey, if you're going to steal, don't fly in head first.' That's on them.
"I can't control them when they are out there between the lines and have no intention of doing that."
Which is the way Hamilton wants it.
"It's good to have a manager say that," Hamilton said. "That's what I've done my whole life. It shouldn't be an issue. It has never been an issue. I got drafted doing it this way and did it this way in the Minor Leagues. It's the way I have done it my whole life."