Rangers face Angels, Hamilton in home opener
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Josh Hamilton was booed his last game at Rangers Ballpark and that’s when he was still playing for Texas.
When the Rangers play their home opener Friday, the five-time All-Star slugger and former AL MVP will be in the other dugout with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.
Texas is coming off a season-opening series against the Astros, the division’s newest team, and Yu Darvish came within an out of a perfect game and Rangers pitchers struck out 43 batters with two shutout victories.
That won’t matter much. Hamilton being in a different uniform for the first home series of the season will be a big focus.
“He was a good teammate and we enjoyed having him and everything. He’s a freak athlete, he’s great, but now he’s on the other team and I don’t really care,” said left-hander Derek Holland, the scheduled starter for Texas. “Just like anybody else, I wish him the best but at the same time you want to go out there and win.”
The Rangers, who went to their only two World Series with Hamilton in their lineup, will be playing at home for the first time since that one-and-done, wild-card 5-1 loss to Baltimore last October. Hamilton was 0 for 4 in that game with two strikeouts, both on three pitches. He swung at the first pitch his other at-bats — including a double-play grounder in the first that sent home the Rangers’ only run.
“I’m not expecting anything I can’t handle,” Hamilton said Thursday. “I figured I’d try to run out there when Albert (Pujols) is announced before me and as they’re booing him, just kind of slide out there behind him so it’s not so bad. ... I was booed when I played there. Why would you expect not to be when I’m playing here?”
Hamilton took a $125 million, five-year deal from the Angels after a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 148 games for Texas last season.
While Hamilton can expect boos even though he still has a house there and calls Texas home, Elvis Andrus will likely get a huge ovation.
The two-time All-Star shortstop, only 24 years old and already in his fifth major league season, signed his new contract Thursday with eight additional seasons for $120 million in Texas through 2022, and includes a vesting option for 2023. He could opt out after 2018, but that’s nearly six seasons away.
While Elvis will be in the building for a while, there are still questions about CEO Nolan Ryan’s future with the Rangers.
There has been speculation about Ryan’s role and future with the team since it was announced March 1 that general manager Jon Daniels and chief operating officer Rick George had been promoted and had new presidential titles.
Ryan, who had been president and CEO, issued a statement nine days later saying that he met with team co-chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson. The Hall of Fame pitcher said those conversations were productive and would continue, but has since offered nothing more publicly about his plans.
Regardless, baseball’s strikeout king has to be ecstatic with what the Rangers are doing on the mound.
Along with Darvish getting oh-so-close to a perfect game, Rangers pitchers have the most strikeouts by any team in the first three games of a season since 1900. They are the first team since 1920 with consecutive 15-strikeout games while not allowing a run. Darvish had 14 strikeouts in his start, the most for a Rangers pitcher since Ryan struck out 14 Angels in 1991.
As for seeing Hamilton on the other side, Ian Kinsler said it was “a little strange in spring training” when they played exhibition games in Arizona. Hamilton had a deep homer in a game at Surprise.
Switch-hitter Lance Berkman, the veteran free agent Texas has put in the No. 3 spot Hamilton occupied, was 6 for 10 with a double and three RBIs in the season-opening series. Berkman started his career for the Astros from 1997-2010.
Hamilton’s first week with Los Angeles included series against both of his former teams.
“As time goes on, I think people are going to disconnect him with Texas and connect him more with us. ... I think (Texas) fans understand his contributions,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I don’t think Josh gets caught up in that, actually. In the dugout, at the plate, he’s very level-headed and focused.”
After making Hamilton made his major league debut with Cincinnati in 2007, the Rangers acquired the slugger in a trade that winter.
“I think it’s cool when we’re beginning the season in Cincinnati, then we go straight to Texas,” Hamilton said. “Just reminds you that these were seasons of your life and they were good seasons of your life, and it’s time to move to a different one.”
AP Baseball Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati and AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.