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Hamilton feels, looks good in spring debut

Angels slugger returns from strained calf, notches single in second at-bat

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Patience isn't necessarily an element of Josh Hamilton's game, so it should come as no surprise that his first game of 2014 saw him see all of five Tim Lincecum pitches in three at-bats.

Hamilton went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday, his first game back from a strained left calf. He grounded into a 4-6 fielder's choice while swinging on 2-0 his first time up, then swung at the very first pitch in his next two plate appearances -- resulting in a short-hop off the glove of Giants first baseman Mark Minicozzi and a hard liner right into the glove of right fielder Hunter Pence.

"A great first step" is what Angels manager Mike Scioscia called it -- but many more remain.

"It was good, man," Hamilton said. "It felt good just to get on the base, steal, and then do things that you're supposed to do as a player on the field. It was good overall."

Hamilton said Sunday that starting the season on the disabled list "isn't even on the table," even though he typically likes to get somewhere between 45 and 55 at-bats to be ready for the regular season and only 11 exhibition games remain. He can double up by playing in Minor League games, and he took part in live batting practice for three straight days before St. Patrick's Day.

But Scioscia isn't making any declarations, saying after Monday's game: "There's still some hurdles. You want him to get his at-bats up where they are, he's got to go out there and play left field, you're going to need recovery days here and there. But we'll see how it goes. We're not going to get too far ahead right now."

Told of Scioscia's comments, Hamilton said, "Whatever Sosh thinks, I'm going to go with that, because I'm not going to create any controversy [through the media]."

Hamilton was on crutches on the afternoon of Feb. 25, a result of the baserunning drill that tweaked his calf, but he rehabbed aggressively. Two days later, he was hitting and throwing off one knee. Six days after that, he ran on the treadmill. Three days after that, he took live batting practice on the field and did agility drills. And on Saturday and Sunday, he ran the bases.

Hamilton briefly ran the bases twice Monday, beating out a potential double play in the first and attempting a third-inning stolen base just before a 3-2 pitch hit David Freese. Scioscia felt Hamilton was "very comfortable" and "running very well," but still needs to "get some timing."

Hamilton felt he was "a little jumpy" and "out in front," which he expected in his first game.

"First couple of at-bats were exactly that, where I wasn't really focused on when to start my load and everything as far as hitting goes," Hamilton said. "But third at-bat, I really focused on it and I felt like I put a better swing on the ball."

Coming off a disappointing first season in Anaheim, Hamilton -- signed to a five-year, $125 million contract in December 2012 -- put on 28 pounds on a high-calorie, high-protein, gluten-free diet. He entered camp weighing 240 pounds, 13 pounds heavier than what he showed up at the year before and a lot closer to his weight in Texas.

And it showed with how easily he was driving the ball in batting practice.

"It's different," Scioscia said. "No doubt."

At one point last year, Hamilton and C.J. Wilson -- the two former Rangers teammates -- weighed about the same, even though Hamilton has three inches on the Angels' left-handed starter.

"We were both 212, 214, and I was like, 'Man, this isn't right; you need to be 20 pounds heavier,'" Wilson said early this spring. "He was doing the right thing in the sense that he was trying to eat healthy because he wanted to give the team the best, but I don't think he was able to swing the bat well."

What can he provide the Angels with his weight back to normal?

"Spring Training will show," Wilson said. "He's a fantastic player. He's an unbelievable physical talent. And if he's physically ready to go, then it'll show -- he'll be dominant."

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