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Hamilton 'ready,' expects 96 wins

Hamilton 'ready,' expects 96 wins

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitchers and catchers were on the field for their first workout on Friday morning. Outfielder Josh Hamilton was with them.

He went right down the checklist.

"I feel good," Hamilton said. "I feel strong. I got all of my weight back. I'm running good, throwing good, fielding good. My back feels good, my abs feel good, my rear feels good. Everything feels good."

He also gave his prediction.

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"I'm going to call 96 wins," Hamilton said.

He predicted 90 wins last year. The Rangers won 87 games, and they did it while getting basically a half-season out of their two-time All-Star outfielder.

Hamilton played in 89 games last year and hit .268 with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs in 336 at-bats. He had a .315 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage. In 2008, when he was one of the biggest stories in baseball, Hamilton hit .304 with 32 home runs and a league-leading 130 RBIs. He had a .371 on-base percentage and a .530 slugging percentage.

"Last year was last year," Hamilton said. "As a team, we had a better year but I struggled as far as injuries. This year is a new year. This winter, I've addressed all the things I needed to do physically, and I'm ready to go."

Hamilton was on the disabled list twice last year, once with a bruised left rib cage and again with a torn abdominal muscle. He was also out for almost all of September with a pinched nerve in his lower back.

"I'm back to my old self mentally," Hamilton said. "I'm not messing with my swing, I'm hitting the ball hard, I'm hitting it well -- I feel I'm back to my old self."

The Rangers will likely need that if Hamilton's prediction is to come true. That's the expectation he carries with him into Spring Training as he transitions from center field to left.

"That's no different from my own," Hamilton said. "You always put more pressure on yourself than other people do. I want to do better and feel I will if I stay healthy and stay away from [outfield] walls. ... It's all good."

Hamilton had two disastrous encounters with an outfield wall last year, one causing the bruised rib cage in April and the other resulting in the torn abdominal muscle in May. But that was not the entire cause of his drop in production.

After leading the American League in RBIs in 2008, Hamilton and former hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo decided to tinker with his swing. They took away his front foot "toe-tap" and tried to smooth out his swing. Hamilton listened respectfully to the Rangers' highly regarded hitting coach and tried to make the adjustment.

It didn't take, and the injuries didn't help, either. Hamilton had a great spring, hitting .393 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 27 games, but he says now those numbers were an illusion.

"I just wasn't ever comfortable," Hamilton said. "In the spring, guys aren't throwing everything they've got in every count, so you can't go by that. I got to the point where I felt I had given a good try, and it wasn't working."

So the toe-tap is back. Hamilton's health is back. Everything is good on the first day of camp.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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