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06/25/09 7:00 PM ET

Progress may have Hamilton back soon

Slugger targets July 3 return, while skipper promises caution

PHOENIX -- Josh Hamilton has made significant progress in recent days, and the injured Rangers outfielder is eager to return to action.

The original hope was that Hamilton would be ready to return by the All-Star break. But the right-handed-hitting slugger said he is hoping to be ready by the time the Rangers open a three-game series with the Rays, on July 3 in Arlington.

"I'm way ahead of schedule," Hamilton said. "That's a reasonable goal to have. I don't want to do anything that will set me back and keep me out longer, but if I don't set goals, I won't work as hard to reach those goals."

Manager Ron Washington said Hamilton might being too optimistic. Washington said the Rangers will want Hamilton to go on at least three or four games of rehab and best-case scenario could be getting him back for the final road trip before the All-Star break.

Hamilton is also expressing hope that he could play in the All-Star Game on July 14 if he is voted in by the fans. He was third among American League outfielders in the latest ballot update earlier this week. At the time, Hamilton said he didn't think playing in the All-Star Game was a good idea. But the improvement he has shown this week has changed Hamilton's mind.

"I didn't have a clue," Hamilton said. "I didn't know how to approach it. But the more progress I made -- I've talked to [general manager Jon Daniels] about it, and they said if I was voted into the All-Star Game, they would be more than happy for me to play. That was good. I didn't know how they would feel about it."

Hamilton would likely not participate in the Home Run Derby.

"There's a reasonable chance Josh returns before the All-Star break," Daniels said on Thursday. "I know he'd like to participate in the All-Star Game if elected, and the club would support him if he's back healthy."

Hamilton has started taking full batting practice and is running 100 percent again. The plan is for him to run the bases on Friday and Saturday in Arlington while continuing to take batting practice.

If all goes well, Hamilton could go out on a medical rehabilitation assignment early next week and be ready by the end of the week.

"I want to be back by the middle of this coming week," Hamilton said. "I did a lot of drills today -- cutting and twisting, changing directions -- and there were not any problems."

Hamilton is hitting .240 with six home runs and 24 RBIs while playing in just 35 of the Rangers' first 70 games this season. He hit .304 with 32 home runs and 130 RBIs in 2008.

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