Texas Rangers’ Hamilton hopes to return to lineup Saturday

From the DMN

DES MOINES, Iowa – The search for the missing piece from the Rangers lineup resumed in a state where the best-known ballpark is carved out of a cornfield.

But Josh Hamilton was some three hours southwest of the Field of Dreams on Thursday night, instead playing center field for Triple-A Oklahoma City at the 11,000-seat Principal Park.

But his field of dreams is Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Hamilton, who is on the disabled list after having surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle, hopes to resume patrolling center field there and batting third as soon as Saturday.

The Rangers will gladly welcome the return of their best run producer, who hit 32 homers last season, drove in 130 runs and has the ability to turn around a slumping offense.

While Hamilton is the first to caution that he probably isn’t the cure-all for the Rangers’ lineup, he is expected to offer plenty of help when he returns.

“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to do any better when I do get back,” he said. “I’m only human, but at the same time, I hope I can come back and help out the lineup.”

A Saturday return is not a certainty. Hamilton went 0-for-4 Thursday against the Iowa Cubs and is only 1-for-11 in two games here. He handled outfield duties for the first time on his rehab assignment without difficulty and will be back in center tonight.

It was suggested that Hamilton get 30 at-bats before being activated from the DL, where he landed June 1. That should allow him to get his timing back and get to the point where he is regularly making solid contact.

Including a game Monday for Double-A Frisco, Hamilton has two hits in 15 at-bats. Though the results are missing, he sees progress.

“My timing’s there,” said Hamilton, who swung at the first pitch in all four at-bats against Iowa. “I’m still a little too aggressive, trying to make something happen, but that happens at every level.”

Hamilton, who was also on the DL from April 27 to May 12 with a strained rib cage, is hitting only .240 with six homers for the Rangers. He flirted with swing changes in spring training, then went back to the swing he used last season.

He never found a groove early in the season, and he appeared to be starting to swing the bat well when he suffered the abdominal injury May 17 while making a leaping catch that sent him into the center field wall at Rangers Ballpark.

Hamilton sees his return as a fresh start, but he also wants to be right before he is activated. If that doesn’t happen by Saturday, he’ll go to Oklahoma City and work on timing.

“That’s all hitting is anyway,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who’s throwing or who’s hitting. It’s quite simple, really.”

There’s no doubt the Rangers missed his big bat while slumping badly at the plate in June. Hamilton, who was out the entire month, would not have been missed had the Rangers led baseball in average, runs and homers.

Instead, they hit an American League-low .225, and only one team scored fewer runs. Players admitted they pressed to make up for Hamilton’s absence.

“I think so, and that’s the wrong thing to do,” said leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler, who saw his average slide 16 points in June without Hamilton hitting two spots behind him. “We need to take care of what we can control. If we do that, we’ll be fine. It’s when we try to do too much when we get in trouble.”

Manager Ron Washington said Kinsler and No. 2 hitter Michael Young will benefit the most from Hamilton’s return. Pitchers will be around the strike zone to avoid giving them a free base so that Hamilton will hit with the bases empty.

“He’s one of our best players, and we’ve seen what he can do,” outfielder David Murphy said. “But there are no guarantees that he’s going to hit .350. You can’t expect that of him. At the same time, his return could be the factor that makes everyone better.”

The Hamilton-fueled improvement could start as soon as Saturday.

“If it was my decision, absolutely,” he said.

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