Hamilton's return opens door for Blalock
Rangers send down Davis, creating gap at first base
ANAHEIM -- Josh Hamilton was back in the Rangers' lineup on Monday night and Hank Blalock was at first base against the Angels in the first of their three-game series at Angel Stadium.Hamilton, activated off the disabled list, was playing for the first time since May 31. Manager Ron Washington gave Hamilton the option of being used at designated hitter in his first game back, but Hamilton was eager to get back into center field. "I'm ready to go," Hamilton said after going 4-for-27 while working back from an abdominal tear in six injury-rehabilitation games in the Minor Leagues. "I wouldn't be back if I wasn't ready to go. It's good to be back up here and around the guys again. I feel like a part of the team rather than some guy who was just hanging around." Hamilton is here in place of first baseman Chris Davis, who was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma after hitting .202 with 15 home runs, 33 RBIs and 114 strikeouts. With Davis gone, Washington said Blalock will get most of the playing time at first base. Washington said David Murphy could play first base occasionally, as could Andruw Jones. But right now Blalock will get to play regularly, which was not always the case in his time at designated hitter. "It's more of an opportunity that's presented to me, rather than something I was looking for," Blalock said. "I'm a big Chris Davis fan. He's a hard worker and still has a great career ahead of him. To be a good teammate, you don't want to see guys sent down to get more playing time. I'm sure I'll be playing more first base, but it's up to me to get the job done." This could be a crucial time for both Hamilton and Blalock. Hamilton is trying to get back on track after a rough three months. Not only has he been on the DL twice because of injuries, but he's also hitting just .240 with six home runs and 24 RBIs in 35 games and 125 at-bats. He had .456 slugging percentage and a .290 on-base percentage going into Monday's game. He had 31 strikeouts and just nine walks. He had a .371 on-base and a .530 slugging percentage in 2008 while hitting 30 home runs and driving in a league-leading 130 runs. The Rangers have sorely missed that kind of production in the middle of the lineup. They led the league in runs scored in 2008 but were seventh going into Monday's game. "If I can do anything for the offense, it would be to get on base, whether it's by walk or getting a hit," Hamilton said. "Being more patient will help some. I've got all the kinks worked out mechanically. Patience is the biggest thing I have to work on. Mechanically, if I do things right, it will help me with my patience. "A good second half for me would be helping my team any way I can to get to the playoffs. If I can contribute in big situations, it's not going to matter what my numbers are." Hamilton missed all of June because of a torn muscle in his abdomen that required surgery. He also missed two weeks at the end of April and the beginning of May because of bruised left rib cage muscle. Both injuries were the result of crashing into the fence chasing fly balls. Washington said he'll try to keep Hamilton fresh by using him occasionally at designated hitter and in either left or right field. "I'm not going to stop playing my game because I got hurt," Hamilton said. "I'm not going to change anything that helps us win games. That's the way I play. Hopefully I'll deflect or roll off the wall rather than trying to go through it." This could be a crucial time for Blalock because he can be a free agent after the season. He's had some big moments in the first half, including a walk-off home run against the Angels last week in Arlington. He went into Monday's game hitting .241 with 17 home runs and 38 RBIs. He had a .530 slugging percentage -- second highest on the team -- but a .290 on-base percentage. This could be Blalock's best chance to show people that he can be a productive everyday player again, either for the Rangers or somebody else. Because of injuries, he hasn't had 500 at-bats in a season since 2006, and his shoulder problems ended a four-year run as the Rangers' regular third baseman. "As far as my career, every time I play baseball, I try to do the best I can," Blalock said. "I try to do the best no matter whether I'm going to be a free agent, whether I'm at DH or playing, no matter what." Blalock, an All-Star at third base in 2003-04, went into Monday having played 43 games at first base: 34 last year and nine more this season. He was planning to become a full-time first baseman last season, but that plan was skewered by injuries and the presence of Davis in the lineup. "He just needs to get out there and be Hank Blalock," Washington said. "We can't expect Hank Blalock to be Chris Davis [defensively], but Hank is a professional. I think he can play first base."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.