Hamilton wants to stay center field for Texas now and future

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The first order of business for Josh Hamilton on Saturday afternoon was to assure his manager that the minor groin tightness he experienced a night earlier had nothing to do with playing center field.

The discomfort developed while legging out a double, not tracking down fly balls in a position some consider to be too dangerous for the fragile former MVP.

"The first thing he said was, 'Skip, it didn't happen in center field, so don't get the idea that I can't play there,'" Ron Washington said.

Hamilton wants to be the Texas Rangers' starting center fielder this season, and that's what Washington wants, too.

A final decision is pending, but it's hardly a mystery.

Perhaps most important is that Hamilton wants to be the Rangers' center fielder well into the future. He is open to signing an extension during the season, but for now is still expecting to be a free agent after the year.

"That's the way I've got to approach it. That eliminates me from thinking about it," Hamilton said. "If they want to talk about contract, obviously we're going to listen.

"I'm praying about it, man, that God has me where he wants to have me, in the right spot and with the right people. I've been there for the last four years and a fifth year this year. We'll see what kind of answers we get."

The first answer Hamilton gave the media Saturday concerned his tight left groin. It's the same side of the body where he suffered a hernia late last season that required surgery in November.

However, the tightness is in a different area and unrelated to the hernia. Hamilton received treatment that eliminated a muscle spasm, and he hit in the batting cages.

There is no concern that the issue will prevent him from playing Friday in the season opener. He didn't play Saturday night against Cleveland and won't play today in the Cactus League finale, but Washington is planning to have Hamilton in the lineup Monday for an exhibition game at Round Rock.

He will resume getting his swing ready for the season. Though he will leave the desert with a .236 average (13 for 55) and no home runs, overall he is taking a good feeling back home.

The lack of power has been somewhat bothersome. Hamilton said that he has been pressing a little while trying to find his home-run swing and chasing too many first pitches.

"I want to get back to where I'm seeing more pitches," he said. "My cage work has been really good. It's about what I'm doing in the cage and taking it on the field."

Hamilton has emerged as the clear front-runner to log the most time in center field after the three-man competition between Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin fizzled.

But the possibility that Hamilton would be primarily in center existed from the first full-squad workout. He has always preferred center field to left field, where the thought is that he experiences less wear and tear on his body.

"I'm excited about it," Hamilton said. "I'll do the best I can to stay away from walls and stay on the field every day."

He also said that his contract won't be a distraction should the Rangers and his agent, Mike Moye, open negotiations on a long-term deal.

Hamilton reiterated that he wants a "fair" contract that would satisfy the players' association as much as the Rangers.

General manager Jon Daniels generally prefers not to negotiate during the season but would consider it so long as it doesn't become a distraction.

"It can certainly be done," Daniels said.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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