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Hamilton Hopes to Return Friday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Slugger Josh Hamilton hopes to return to the Texas Rangers lineup by Friday, though the AL West champions will go into the playoffs without reliever Frank Francisco.

    Hamilton took swings in the batting cage for the third straight day Wednesday, hitting 10 balls off a tee and about 40 tossed balls. The majors' leading hitter (.361) took the last few swings at nearly full speed and says he felt good.

    "That's great news," manager Ron Washington said. "If he says he's ready to go, I'll start getting him at-bats."

    The AL MVP candidate has been out since he broke two ribs after making a catch and crashing into an outfield wall Sept. 4 at Minnesota. Hamilton could be the designated hitter Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels.

    Hamilton Working Toward a Return for Playoffs

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    Francisco, out since Aug. 28 because of a muscle strain in his right side, is not ready to pitch off a mound yet. Manager Ron Washington said a third MRI exam done Tuesday showed improvement, but not enough for the right-hander to do more than throw off flat ground.

    "He's not ready to get on a mound and air it out," Washington said.

    That means Francisco won't be on the roster for the first round of the American League playoffs next week, though the Rangers aren't ruling out the possibility of Francisco (6-4, 3.76 ERA in 56 appearances) returning if they advance.

    Reliever Mark Lowe was activiated from the 60-day disabled list Wednesday and the Rangers plan for him to pitch in three of their last six games to determine if the hard-throwing right-hander is a postseason option. Lowe, who came to Texas with Cliff Lee from Seattle in the July 9 trade, had been on the DL since May 3 with a back injury that required surgery.

    Lowe had been rehabilitating in Arizona.

    "We've got to see what he does," Washington said. "He got some rookie leaguers out, and got some A-ballers out. We have to see if he can get big leaguers out."

    Francisco had been scheduled to throw a bullpen session Tuesday, but instead had another MRI exam.

    Hamilton said he won't take batting practice on the field for the rest of the season or the playoffs as a precaution.

    "I want to eliminate the risk of getting the adrenaline going and doing too much," Hamilton said.

    After taking his swings in the cage Wednesday, Hamilton ran the bases and caught fly balls hit by a coach.

    Before breaking his ribs, Hamilton hit .361 with 31 home runs and 97 RBIs in 130 games.

    "We will have a fresh Josh. ... He may come back and look like he never missed a beat," Washington said. "Just his presence back in the lineup will make a big difference."

    Washington said while Hamilton will return at the end of the regular season as a designated hitter, the slugger will be in the outfield in the playoffs.

    Hamilton will be wearing hard thin pads under his jersey to protect his ribs. He wore the flak jacket-like protection during his workout Wednesday and said it posed no problems for him.