Rangers' Josh Hamilton 'feels good'

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton took his biggest step yet toward getting back on the field this weekend, and at this point plans on Friday as his return to the lineup as the designated hitter.

Hamilton, who is recovering from small fractures in two ribs, took 50 swings before Wednesday's game against the Seattle Mariners.

He took 10 off the tee and 40 off soft toss. Hamilton said he was swinging at about 80 percent on the first 30 swings of soft toss and 95 percent on the last five to 10. He looked pleased as he put on his cleats to go run the bases. He has not thrown yet and doesn't have a plan to at this point.

"I feel good," said Hamilton, who wore some light padding for his ribs while working out, and said the protection felt fine. "I didn't have any problems. When I release my top hand at the end of my swing [after contact], I don't feel any pain at all."

Hamilton said the next step would be hitting balls off live pitching in the cages, something he could do later Wednesday or Thursday. He has decided not to take any batting practice outside so that he doesn't get his adrenaline up and try to do too much.

Manager Ron Washington said he would try to get Hamilton in the field before the end of the season and that if he's ready to play in the playoffs, it would be in the outfield and not as the DH.

Washington said Hamilton is a part of the defense and that the club won't be "babysitting" if he's able to play.

"It's hard to put expectations on how he'll do," Washington said. "We just have to let him go. He may come back and look like he hasn't missed any time, or he may fight to figure it out. But he'll figure it out."

Hamilton has been out of the lineup since Sept. 4, when he crashed into the wall in right-center at Target Field in Minnesota.

In other injury news, an MRI of Frank Francisco's back showed improvement, but the Rangers reliever has been ruled out for the first round of the playoffs as he still can't throw from a mound.

Washington said the plan is for Francisco to keep throwing off flat ground and go to Arizona, where he can continue to get better and face hitters. Teams are allowed to reset their 25-man rosters after each playoff series.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.