Josh Hamilton is getting another shot at redemption in baseball with an unlikely journey that has led back to the Texas Rangers.
After leaving for a big free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels, the 2010 AL MVP had struggles on and off the field.
Hamilton, out of the majors since shoulder surgery in February, is now set for a Rangers reunion Monday against the Cleveland Indians, a matchup of streaking teams. His season debut comes exactly four weeks after the Angels finalized a trade to basically give him back to their AL West rivals for little in return less than halfway into a $125 million, five-year deal.
"I’ve always wanted to play the game the right way. Play hard, give what you have, leave it out there. If you do that, then you don’t have to answer to anybody," Hamilton said Saturday, when his stint at Triple-A Round Rock ended with a rained-out game. "Hopefully, people in my career have enjoyed watching me play."
Hamilton will start in left field and likely will hit second or fifth in the batting order, according to manager Jeff Banister.
Banister said his plan was to "open our arms and love him up and give him a great big hug and welcome him in, and then treat him like he’s one of 25, just like we do everybody else."
During Hamilton’s first stint in Texas, after 19 homers and 47 RBIs in his 2007 rookie season with Cincinnati, the outfielder was an All-Star in each of his five seasons (2008-12) and was the AL MVP the same season the Rangers went to the first of consecutive World Series.
Hamilton had a disappointing two seasons on the West Coast, where in 240 regular-season games for the Angels he hit .255 with 31 homers and 123 RBIs. He played only 89 games last season because of injuries, and was hitless in 13 at-bats during the AL division series against Kansas City.
Then there was his self-reported alcohol and cocaine relapse last offseason, along with shoulder surgery. He is also going through a divorce.
Angels owner Arte Moreno made it clear they no longer wanted Hamilton, and will pay $105 million for two underwhelming seasons. Texas is responsible for $6 million and Hamilton agreed to give up $14 million he was due.
Hamilton went to extended spring training in Arizona the day after the April 27 trade, then spent the past two weeks playing 12 games combined for Round Rock and Double-A Frisco.
"Josh is physically and game-ready to get started," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.
With Hamilton, the Rangers (21-23) will try to extend their season-high win streak to six. All of those victories have come during a nine-game trip that ends Wednesday. Texas, winners in 11 of 14 away from home, had double-digit hit totals in each of its three wins against the New York Yankees, culminating with Sunday’s 5-2 victory.
They outscored the Yankees 30-15 in the three-game sweep and Prince Fielder went 8 for 14 with three homers, raising his AL-best average to .358.
Phil Klein (1-0, 4.50 ERA) will attempt to contribute to Texas’ run in his second major league start. The right-hander yielded a solo homer and four other hits in 5 1-3 innings in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Boston.
The Indians (20-23) completed a three-game sweep of visiting Cincinnati with a 5-2 win Sunday to push their season-high win streak to six.
"It’s nice to see that we’re kind of coming together as a team and putting some wins together," pitcher Trevor Bauer said.
Cleveland has a 1.98 ERA in its last seven games with its starters boasting a 1.42 mark. Shaun Marcum (1-0, 2.31) won his first start for the Indians on Wednesday by allowing two runs in 6 2-3 innings in a 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
The nine-year veteran is 2-0 with a 4.30 ERA in five career starts against the Rangers, last facing them in 2010.
Cleveland took two of three in Texas from May 15-17, totaling 18 runs and 26 hits in its victories. The Indians have won 13 of 15 over the Rangers and six consecutive home meetings.
They’ve won seven straight home games against that franchise just once from Sept. 21, 1969-July 8, 1970, versus the Washington Senators.