LEFT FIELD: JOSH HAMILTON Texas Rangers His recent alcohol relapse...

LEFT FIELD: JOSH HAMILTON
Texas Rangers
His recent alcohol relapse cast further doubt upon his attractiveness as a long-term investment, as his injury history is well-known.
2012 salary: $15.25 million
Credit: AP

ST. LOUIS -- Josh Hamilton is one wrong move, one checked swing, from sitting out the remainder of this World Series because of a left groin strain he has battled for the past two months.

"To be honest with you," Hamilton said before Thursday night's Game 2, "if it was the regular season, I'd probably be on the disabled list. But we don't have that luxury right now."

Hamilton, backed into a corner of the visitors' dugout at Busch Stadium, gave a grim diagnosis of the injury and how it has affected him during the postseason.

Texas manager Ron Washington sounded more like a guy in denial. Despite Hamilton's painful injury, which the outfielder admits has sapped his power, Washington kept him in the No. 3 spot for Game 2 against the Cardinals. The only change was that Hamilton shifted to leftfield, with Craig Gentry getting the start in center.

"Even if Hamilton doesn't do anything, he makes a difference just with his presence in our lineup," Washington said. "I want his presence in it and it's in there tonight. Don't be surprised if he comes up big, because I certainly won't."

"Big'' could be a stretch. Hamilton has not homered since Sept. 23, a drought that includes 45 postseason at-bats. Judging by what he expressed Thursday, going deep could be a bit out of his range at the moment.

"I wouldn't say I'm frustrated," he said. "I just have to make adjustments. I can't really use my lower half. It is what it is."

Hamilton was batting .267 (12-for-45) with five doubles and seven RBIs in 11 postseason games, but it's been a struggle. He's at the "saving his bullets" stage, meaning Hamilton will sprint full when he needs to and downshift in situations that he considers less urgent.

When asked to rate himself percentage-wise, Hamilton smiled, then provided some insight into just how unstable the injury is, especially in the 40-degree temperatures of St. Louis.

"I'd probably say 75 to 80 percent, and I'm comfortable playing at that level," Hamilton said. "But if I try to do too much, it might go down to 50 percent."

In Game 1, Hamilton went 0-for-4 and looked shaky tracking down balls in the outfield. In his second at-bat, he winced on a checked swing before striking out looking. In Game 2, he was 0-for-3 through seven innings.

When the jabbing pain flares up, it doesn't just disappear. Hamilton says the discomfort lingers for roughly 15 to 20 minutes, which becomes an issue if that occurs midway through one of his plate appearances.

"I don't want to check-swing anymore," Hamilton said, laughing. As for when the groin injury bothers him the most, there's not much relief.

"Any kind of explosive activity," he said. "But I've played through the whole playoffs like this and the last part of the season. It's gotten a little bit worse, but it's not something that's going to deter us from what we want to do."

Hamilton should be helped some when the series switches to Texas for the weekend, as the temperature is expected to be in the 70s. But taking a night off is not an option now, not with five games left, at the most. It wouldn't do much to alleviate the problem anyway.

"Josh's situation, we're aware of it," said Rangers CEO and president Nolan Ryan. "We hope it continues to be manageable. We have no reason to think it won't be."

The Rangers have plenty of other weapons. ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz has six home runs and 13 RBIs. Mike Napoli, who hit a tying two-run homer Wednesday night, is batting .325 (13-for-40) with a .400 on-base percentage and is tied with Adrian Beltre for the team lead in runs scored (10). The question is how much the Rangers will need to lean on Hamilton.

"We want Josh to be 100 percent healthy, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse that are struggling with injuries," Napoli said. "I'm pretty sure he's going to fight through it and he'll be out there and he'll find a way. We're confident in that."

With Ken Davidoff

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