Gil LeBreton

Josh Hamilton on crutches, and no one should be surprised

The crowd of cameras and notepads around Josh Hamilton could only mean one thing Wednesday.

Hint: He wasn’t talking about a majestic spring training home run that he had just hit.

A short walk away, the Texas Rangers were taking the field for their first full workout.

Some people update their Facebook pages. Josh Hamilton updates his page.

His left knee has been hurting and left him unable to run. The Rangers left fielder had already tried surgery and multiple cortisone injections.

In Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, therefore, Dr. Jeff Dugas injected Hamilton’s inflamed knee capsule with stem cells and platelet-rich plasma. He returned to camp Wednesday on crutches, but buttressed with hope.

“[Dugas’] first question to me was, ‘If you were 50 percent better, would you be here?’ I told him absolutely not,” Hamilton said.

“He said, ‘Well, if we can get you there, would it be good?’ I said absolutely.”

Dugas, who practices alongside Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, recommended the stem cell therapy.

The odds of a successful recovery?

“It’s good,” Hamilton answered. “Everybody I’ve talked to who’s had any kind of stem cell stuff has said they’ve had good results from them. That’s positive and encouraging.”

Hamilton’s baseball career has been a roller coaster of comebacks, from everything from alcohol to crack cocaine addiction to a broken hand and fractured ribs.

The knee bothered him so much that Hamilton underwent arthroscopic surgery last October.

“Baseball skill-wise, hitting and throwing and all that stuff — the knee didn’t bother me,” Hamilton said.

“But the more I stand on it, the stiffer it gets, and it prevents me from running.”

Following the injections, Hamilton has to stay off the knee and use the crutches for 10 days and is not expected to be on the field for the season’s first month.

We told them so, of course. Hamilton turns 35 in May, but it’s 35 the hard way.

Because of injuries and assorted potholes, Hamilton has played in only 139 games over the past two seasons. I had suggested the over-under on games started by him this season was 75.

Yet, the Rangers seemed prepared to ride Hamilton in left field for as far as he could go.

They kicked the tires on Justin Upton when he was a free agent, but weren’t interested in Dexter Fowler, who just signed with Baltimore.

Now they have no choice. Someone is going to have to replace Hamilton for at least the first month.

“We’ve got a lot of talented guys here,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We talked to some outfield free agents. But it’s going to have to be the right fit for us to go outside.”

The list of possible outside replacements is mostly underwhelming. It includes Drew Stubbs and Will Venable, who both passed through Arlington late last season.

The most logical of the possible replacements is free agent and former Ranger David Murphy. He is 34 but remains popular in Texas and is a proven big leaguer.

Murphy would hit the ground running, and that’s vital for a Rangers team that limped out of the gate last season and was 8  1/2 games behind by the end of April.

The cavalry is coming, no doubt. The Rangers have young and promising outfield prospects. But Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson are said to still be 4-5 months away.

“It’s definitely an opportunity to evaluate our own,” Daniels said.

Hamilton, his crutches parked at his feet, was asked if the latest medical treatment might finally end his health and injury concerns.

“I’ll be able to give you a better answer in about five or six days,” he said, “once this thing starts getting in there and taking effect.

“Someone asked me today whether I was getting right? Well, it’ll never be right.

“I just want it to get better. That’s the simplest way I could put it.”

The Rangers can only wait. And look for a left fielder to fill in.

Told them so.


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