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After eight-week absence, Hamilton returns

Halos will benefit from having healthy slugger batting fourth in their lineup

HOUSTON -- Josh Hamilton was activated off the disabled list on Tuesday, batting cleanup for the opener of a three-game series against the Astros and joining the Angels exactly eight weeks after an ill-fated head-first slide led to surgery on his left thumb.

It marked the end of Hamilton's longest stint on the shelf since his debut in 2007, and it started with a positive sign, with a 400-foot lineout to straightaway center field in the first, a walk in the fourth and a line-drive solo homer to right field in the eighth during a 7-2 loss.

"The biggest thing I was worried about was coming out and being jumpy, trying to go get it," said Hamilton, who posted a .444/.545/.741 slash line through his first eight games. "I felt good. The key is just to continue doing that."

Hamilton suffered a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and a torn capsule when he banged his thumb on first base at Safeco Field on April 8 and then sustained a bone bruise after getting jammed in his first rehab game with Triple-A Salt Lake on May 22.

On Thursday in Seattle, Hamilton -- swinging without the protective splint that bothered him upon contact -- took batting practice off a pitching machine that spit balls out at a high velocity so he could make sure the thumb feels good when he mis-hits balls. He felt fine, then went 4-for-9 with a double in two rehab games, worked out with the Triple-A team in Albuquerque, N.M., on Sunday and boarded a flight to Houston on Monday.

Asked if he has any way of knowing his timing and rhythm at the plate is the same as it was in early April, Hamilton said: "You go by the at-bats you had. I've been having good results, good swings. It felt good. I hit the ball the other way -- line drives, six-hole, left field, pulled the ball, hit balls up the middle, hit changeups, fastballs, curveballs, all of the above."

The Angels entered their series at Minute Maid Park with a 23rd-ranked .674 OPS from their cleanup hitters, a spot that has seen them plug in six different players. They'll benefit from a healthy Hamilton, who could help Albert Pujols -- batting .169/.291/.292 with runners in scoring position -- see better pitches with men on base.

But somehow, the Angels thrived without Hamilton, ranking fourth in the Majors in runs per game (4.73) while sporting the sixth-best winning percentage (.563).

"I told [manager Mike Scioscia] I'll sit out a while if he wants me to," Hamilton joked. "It's good to see young guys come in and fill a spot and do it well enough to keep you where you are in the standings or moving forward. The guys have done a good job moving us forward, and that's what being on a championship team is all about."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Josh Hamilton