Josh Hamilton ready for shift to center field

SEATTLE -- Rangers manager Ron Washington alerted Josh Hamilton that he’s going back to center field soon.

“Actually, he alerted me,” Washington said prior to Saturday’s game at Safeco Field. “He asked, ‘When [Nelson] Cruz goes back to the outfield, where am I gonna play?’

"I said: ‘Think about it?’ He said: ‘Center field.’ He just wanted to know because he doesn’t look at the lineup.”

Washington said that has been his plan all along once Cruz is fully recovered from his hamstring injury. Cruz was the designated hitter Saturday, but probably will return to right field for the upcoming series at Oakland starting Tuesday.

Washington said he wants Hamilton in center, David Murphy in left field and Cruz in right when all his outfielders are healthy.

“As long as we have a chance to be in postseason, that’s going to be the rule,” Washington said. “If Cruz is ready and I can go with Hamilton in center and Murphy in left, so much for those platoons. They [Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry] still may play, but …”

Gentry started in center Saturday afternoon.

Washington had a one-word answer when asked why the trio of Murphy, Hamilton and Cruz was his best combination for a playoff run?

“Damage,” he said.

Those three outfielders have combined for 61 homers and 215 RBIs this season, entering Saturday’s game.

Washington also doesn’t think he gives up anything defensively.

“Cruz is a quality right fielder,” Washington said. “No doubt about it, Hamilton in center is one of the best in the game, and I’ve seen how Murphy handles left field.”

But he said speedy outfielders Gentry and Chavez also will play when he can get them in, including late-inning defensive replacements to give the starters some rest. Washington said he would pull Cruz and/or Murphy after seven innings when the Rangers have a lead.

‘‘That will give the others guys a chance to get in,” he said.

Hamilton said he’s fine with moving back to center.

‘‘It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “But I wanted to know because you prepare a little different. I need to know what my body is in store for.

“In center you run a little more. When you do it on a consistent basis your body gets used to it. If you only do it for one of two days, your body gets sore.”

Washington said Hamilton is fresher now because he hasn’t had to chase balls in center field as much lately.

“He’s been on the ground a lot, but not in the sense of going gap-to-gap,’ Washington said. “He’s been running in on balls and sliding on balls, but that’s a little different than laying out. In center field you have to lay out.”

Hamilton made two sliding catches Friday night. By the way, he had a new look Saturday when he arrived at the ballpark. The bushy full beard was gone. Only a patch of whiskers around the chin remains.

“My wife said I looked Amish,” Hamilton said. “So I shaved it.”

The newly-shaven Hamilton will start preparing himself for the move back to center.

“In the next day or so I’ll start taking some balls in center field [in batting practice] and throwing to the bases from center,” he said. “I just want to polish some things up a little bit.”

Knowing Washington considers him his “playoff-time” center field is important to Hamilton.

“It makes you feel good as a player to know he thinks you can do the job,” Hamilton said. “Wash wants the best team he can possibly have out there. That outfield gives us the most pop.”