Josh Hamilton will be in the Texas Rangers’ lineup Monday at Cleveland, batting either second or fifth and playing left field.
If he is healthy and focused, his teammates will expect him to add to a lineup that has been one the American League’s best this month.
Hamilton might get an occasional day off early in his comeback from right shoulder surgery Feb. 4, from being exiled by the Los Angeles Angels, from not having a spring training, and from a rehab process that started April 28 at extended spring training.
Otherwise, he’ll be a regular. And that complicates the good things that are going on with the Rangers’ offense and, in particular, rookie Delino DeShields.
“This is the first real challenge in the middle of a positive performance,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I’ve thought about that. We’re going to continue to have Delino engaged, as long as he’s playing well, in as many games was we can.”
That will likely be in a platoon with center fielder Leonys Martin and occasionally in the same lineup with Martin when Hamilton or Shin-Soo Choo gets a day off.
But Banister said there are no immediate plans to stick DeShields at second base, the position he played early in his career before Houston decided to move him to center field with All-Star Jose Altuve signed to a long-term deal and blocking his path at second base.
A move to second, where DeShields hasn’t played with any regularity since 2013, might be a bridge too far.
“We have worked Delino at second base. He has progressively gotten better,” Banister said. “I don’t have an immediate plans to have Delino at second base. I’ve asked a lot of Delino in a short amount of time, and he has responded to it. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
The Rangers don’t want to sit on DeShields, who batted first for the third straight game Sunday at Yankee Stadium and has helped jump-start the offense in May. DeShields entered Sunday with a .304 average this month, a .443 on-base percentage, eight RBIs, nine stolen bases and 14 walks.
The Rangers, in turn, were batting a league-best .274 and had scored a baseball-best 116 runs in May. They scored 25 runs in winning the first two games against New York before completing the series sweep with a 5-2 victory.
DeShields collected two hits, including a triple to start the seventh, to back Yovani Gallardo, who overcame a two-run first by retiring 14 of the final 15 he faced.
Prince Fielder went 3 for 5 with two RBIs, and Adam Rosales had a two-run homer in the second as the Rangers won their fifth straight game.
The belief is that Hamilton will only add to the Rangers’ hot streak. The Rangers remember the good old days, before he chased the Angels’ money and left Texas after five straight seasons as an All-Star.
He was the AL MVP in 2010, the AL Championship Series in 2010, and nearly the hero of the 2011 World Series with a 10-inning homer while playing with a sports hernia. He hit four homers in a 2012 game at Baltimore, and despite slumping terribly in July and again late, finished that season with 43 homers and 128 RBIs.
“I know how good he is when he’s 100 percent,” shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “He’s going to make us a better team, for sure. He’s looked good. He’s been playing well. As a team, we’ve been playing a lot better lately. Josh is going to play hard. I want him to be healthy and ready to go.”
Rangers players kept tabs on Hamilton during his 12-game rehab assignment at Triple A Round Rock and Double A Frisco. He batted .364 (16 for 44) with a homer, five doubles and six RBIs in his first game action since October.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre said that he and Hamilton talked or exchanged text messages since the April 27 trade with the Angels, who are paying the bulk of the $83 million remaining on Hamilton’s five-year $125 million deal.
“We’re happy to have him,” Beltre said. “I heard that he’s swinging well. I talked to him. He said he’s feeling well. We just want him to come in and be one of the guys. We don’t expect him to carry the offense. We know that if he’s healthy and he’s in the right mind, he’s going be a big for us.”
Hamilton will allow Banister to stack the lineup five straight hitters who have had at least a 20-homer season in their careers.
“And we’re going to have a lot more depth,” Andrus said. “It’s going to be a lot better team and bench.”
Another big fan of the move? Not necessarily who most would expect.
“I think he’s going to help the team for sure,” DeShields said. “It’s all about winning. Whether I’m playing or coming off the bench pinch running, then that’s what it’s all about.”
DeShields won’t be just a pinch runner, as he was early on this season, now that Hamilton has returned. But he isn’t likely to play as much as did as key component of the Rangers’ rebound this month.
“There are matchups that we like with Delino. There are matchups that we like with Leonys,” Banister said. “I’ll find spots for Delino.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760