Hamilton nearly full strength as Series arrives

Hamilton nearly full strength as Series arrives

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Rangers advance through the playoffs, Josh Hamilton's health advances, too.

The rib cage injury that forced him to miss most of September is becoming less of a factor as Hamilton plays more games, gets more at-bats and sees more pitches. Now he is close to being 100 percent as the Rangers get ready to open up the World Series on Wednesday (6:30 p.m. CT, on FOX and Postseason.TV) against the Giants at AT&T Park.

"I'm pretty sure the breaks have healed up," Hamilton said Monday after arriving in San Francisco. "The muscle is there at times, but it's not affecting anything on the field. Every once in a while I feel the muscle, but I just keep it loose and massaged good and it's fine."

Hamilton suffered two small fractures in his left rib cage when he fell into the center-field wall chasing a fly ball on Sept. 4 at Target Field in Minnesota. The injury also led to a strained muscle in the area that complicated matters and delayed his return. After multiple tests, examinations, injections and treatments, Hamilton didn't get back into the lineup until the final weekend of the season and was 3-for-11 with a home run in the Rangers' final three games.

He was 2-for-18 during the ALDS against the Rays but was named MVP of the ALCS after going 7-for-20 with four home runs, seven RBIs and eight walks as the Rangers took down the Yankees in six games.

"Getting him back in the lineup was huge," manager Ron Washington said. "Not so much the results, but his presence. That means everything, and guys with lesser talent wouldn't have been able to fight through what he was going through."

Turns out there was one benefit to missing almost a month of the season. Hamilton had been dealing daily with a sore right knee, but that problem has disappeared.

"It helped my knee tremendously," Hamilton said. "When I had a bone scan, I thought my knee would light up, but it hasn't bothered me since I came back."

Hamilton just has to make sure he completes a strenuous pregame routine that gets him through any discomfort and gets him ready to play. Hamilton just can't throw on the uniform and walk out onto the field for a game.

"I could do that, but I would really feel it the next day," Hamilton said. "You do all that preparation as a precautionary thing so you don't get hurt and you can play 162 games. I think I've really come up with a plan that works, minus hitting any walls."

He's not 100 percent, but he's close to it. The Yankees thought so. They walked him eight times during the ALCS, including five times intentionally. But Vladimir Guerrero finally made them pay for it with a two-run double in Game 6 that ended up being the game-winning hit in the Rangers' 6-1 victory.

"I knew Vlad was going to come through," Hamilton said. "You can't do that to him too many times. That drives him. That's what's got him through a long career."

Now the question is if the Giants will test Hamilton or pitch around him.

"They'll probably test me at first, see if I'm swinging out of the zone," Hamilton said. "They'll try to play to my adrenaline, but I think I'll be calm enough to be patient. I won't know though until I play the game."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.