Josh Hamilton focused on health

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton only has one goal this season. And it's not winning the Triple Crown.

"I think about staying healthy, first and foremost," Hamilton said Sunday. "I know if I play a lot of games, these numbers will end up where they need to be."

Hamilton's goal is to play in at least 150 games. He's done that just once in his career, playing in 156 games in 2008, his first season in Texas. He played just 89 games in an injury-riddled 2009 season and won the AL MVP in 2010 despite missing the final month of the season with fractured ribs after hitting a wall in Minnesota in early September.

Last year, Hamilton missed nearly six weeks after a headfirst slide at home plate in Detroit caused a hairline fracture of his upper arm. He also played through injuries in the postseason, getting off-season hernia surgery to repair torn adductors.

But Hamilton came to spring training feeling healthy and ready. He has missed just three games this season because of a tight back, which he said finally loosened up on him on Saturday.

He's still going to dive for balls in the outfield, try to scale walls (without banging into them hard), slide on tarps when it rains (he says he's keeping the game fun) and even headfirst slide at first base, making manager Ron Washington cringe.

"I think (150 games is) a reasonable goal," said Hamilton, who is playing in the final year of his contract in Texas. "You guys know I play hard. But that doesn't prevent me, thinking I'm going to get hurt, from playing hard. I feel like if I don't play hard, I'll end up hurting something. Like Wash says, he always tells me, 'Just be in the lineup.' He says, 'Presence, there's something to say for that.'

"We've got a lot of guys throughout the lineup that can get the job done. I just want to be in there and be a part of it."

Hamilton said he used to set goals for hitting .300 and mashing 30 homers with at least 100 RBIs.

"This year, I'm just going out and playing and where they end up, they end up," Hamilton said.

If he keeps his current pace, those numbers could end up shattering records. Hamilton leads all three Triple Crown categories with the Rangers 35 games into the season. The last player to lead the league in average, homers and RBIs -- the Triple Crown stats -- when the season ended was Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. That was 45 years ago.

The fact that Hamilton leads them now isn't even unprecedented for him. Hamilton led the AL in all three categories as late as through the games of June 3 back in 2008, the same year he captivated the country with his memorable Home Run Derby performance at Yankee Stadium.

Hamilton's 18 homers going into Sunday, made him just the second player since 1918 to accomplish that feat. The other guy was Cy Williams in 1923 for the Phillies.

"Cy is safe," Hamilton said. "I don't even want to know what Cy did."

Hamilton said he isn't consumed with hitting homers. He doesn't even like discussing his pace -- he's ahead of Barry Bonds' record-setting 73 homer season by about a week -- or the historical nature of what he's doing.

"I'm not up there trying to hit a home run," Hamilton said. "I'm trying to hit the ball hard on the barrel. You try to make solid contact. It might go for a double or single. I don't get wrapped up in trying to do it."

His teammates have enjoyed front-row seats for his historic week, which has included nine homers, including the four-homer game in Baltimore on Tuesday. They just want to keep seeing his name in the lineup.

"He's the most talented player I've played with," teammate Michael Young said. "It's a matter of him being on the field for 155-plus games. When you talk about players who are worthy of being the best players in the game, they're on the field a lot.

"Josh is a big, strong man and he plays hard. If we can figure out a way to keep him on the field for 150, 155-plus, we're going to be really happy with what we see."

That's Hamilton's goal too. Then we'll see where he ends up in the record books.