Long road back: Josh Hamilton is in lineup for Rangers
CLEVELAND (AP) Back on a big league field, Josh Hamilton struck out on four pitches in the first inning Monday.
At least he was in the lineup, playing with the Texas Rangers for the first time in three years.
Hamilton drew some cheers when he came to bat after consecutive home runs by Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre. The 2010 AL MVP made his season debut, playing left field and hitting fifth against Cleveland after shoulder surgery in February.
Hamilton's return comes after Texas acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels on April 27. Hamilton went to extended spring training in Arizona the day after the deal and spent the past two weeks playing 12 games in the minors.
He was activated from the 15-day disabled list and joined a team that had won five straight games and entered the day two games below .500.
''It's perfect they had the mentality that we don't need him to jump right in and be the guy he's supposed to be,'' Hamilton said. ''It lets me know they're in a good place as a team. The chemistry is good.''
Hamilton appeared at ease as he chatted with teammates in the clubhouse. He compared bats with Beltre, a teammate from his first stint with Texas, and Fielder, and also caught up with members of the training staff.
Hamilton made the short walk from the clubhouse to the dugout, sat down and took a long look at the field, noting he experienced a range of emotions.
''A little of everything,'' he told reporters about 2 1/2 hours before the game. ''It comes in waves. I'm relaxed one minute and nervous the next. I'm focused on having fun with the guys in the clubhouse. That takes the nervous part out of it. That allows me to understand that I'm in a comfortable place.''
Hamilton had a self-reported alcohol and cocaine relapse last offseason. He was a five-time All-Star in his first stint with Texas and led the Rangers to the World Series in 2010 and 2011.
''I've kind of been under a microscope, my whole life really,'' said Hamilton, who is going through a divorce. ''You have to grow up. I'm not saying I'm not a responsible guy, but you look at life a little differently.''
He signed a $125 million, five-year contract with Los Angeles following the 2012 season, but his time there was a disappointment. He batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and played only 89 games last season because of injuries.
The Rangers don't have a set plan on how much Hamilton will play initially. Manager Jeff Banister said he will communicate with Hamilton and the trainers daily.
''Just go be the best bully in the bunch you can be right now and we'll figure the rest out later,'' Banister said of his words to Hamilton.
The 34-year-old Hamilton said he is focused on baseball and his children.
''Life after baseball is very important and that's why I've made some decisions I've made now because I want to be OK after baseball is over and I know I only have a few years left of it,'' he said. ''If I can do it while I'm playing the game and live life and be responsible and be a good father and do those things and come out here and play and perform, then I know I'll be OK once baseball is over.''
Reliever Neftali Feliz was placed on the DL with an abscess on his right side to clear roster room for Hamilton's return.