Hamilton starts rehab in Triple-A after 'long, ugly process'

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Josh Hamilton is starting over, calling his return to baseball a "small miracle."

The former American League MVP spoke Sunday before starting his rehab stint with the Round Rock Express against the Nashville Sounds. He's recovering from shoulder surgery Feb. 4 and had been working in the Texas Rangers' extended spring program in Arizona since April 28.

"It's really a small miracle that I got back here because it was a whole, big, long, ugly process," Hamilton said. "I feel like the Lord had his hand on it to get me back here. I feel like I'm in the place I'm supposed to be in now."

He played in three extended spring training games last week before the Rangers stepped up his rehabilitation by sending him to the Express.

Hamilton went 1-for-3 with a single and two strikeouts before being pulled after five innings of work. Facing a 2-1 count in the first inning, Hamilton slapped a hit into shallow left field. Former Cy Young winner Barry Zito struck Hamilton out twice, once swinging and once looking, in the 7-0 loss to Nashville.

"I was a little jumpy at the plate, which is to be expected," Hamilton said.

The former MVP only had to play one ball in left field, a line-drive roller to the corner.

"I think we liked what we saw," Round Rock manager Jason Wood said. "Physically, he looked great. He was moving really well in the outfield. It's just nice to see him back on the field again, and in good spirits."

Hamilton said his body feels good, which is important. He also has no clue on when he joins the Rangers. He will remain with Round Rock in Nashville for Monday night's game and head home with the Express for a four-game series with Omaha.

"I could find it as early as tomorrow, or a week from now. And that's what the fun and frustrating part of the game is. Any given year you can come to spring training and feel really good right off the bat," Hamilton said. "Then there's some other years it takes a little longer."

The overall No. 1 draft pick in 1999 first began using drugs and alcohol after a car accident in 2001 that eventually cost him a one-year suspension in 2004. Once he joined the Rangers, Hamilton was an All-Star in each of his five seasons with Texas. He led the team to two pennants and was the MVP in 2010.

After a 2012 season in which he hit a career-high 43 home runs and 128 RBIs, he signed a five-year, $125 million contract. He self-reported a cocaine and alcohol relapse this winter. That led the Angels to trade Hamilton back to the Rangers on April 27, with Los Angeles expected to pay most of the remaining $80.2 million he is owed.

"The last couple years obviously haven't been what I wanted them to be as a player," he said. "I haven't been that guy. It wasn't like I didn't try to put the work in and be that guy. But there were some distractions away from the field, and those are being resolved."

Hamilton said he reassembled his support group.

"That was a big deal," he said. "Obviously, I take full responsibility for allowing that to dissipate and change over the years. That was one of the things over these last couple months — to realize 'OK, when have I been successful? And when has my mind been right and I'd go out and play the best I can play? Who's been around me? What people were they?'"

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