ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Josh Hamilton was booed his last game at Rangers Ballpark and that’s when he was still playing for Texas.
When the Rangers play their home opener Friday, the five-time All-Star slugger and former AL MVP will be in the other dugout with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.
Texas took two of three in its season-opening series against the Astros, the division’s newest team, and Yu Darvish came within an out of a perfect game and Rangers pitchers struck out 43 batters with two shutout victories.
Los Angeles won at Cincinnati in its opener before the Reds took the final two games of the series. Hamilton went 1 for 12 with six strikeouts in the set, driving in two runs Thursday in a 5-4 loss.
That won’t matter much. Hamilton being in a different uniform for the first home series of the season will be a big focus.
“He was a good teammate and we enjoyed having him and everything. He’s a freak athlete, he’s great, but now he’s on the other team and I don’t really care,” said left-hander Derek Holland the scheduled starter for Texas. “Just like anybody else, I wish him the best but at the same time you want to go out there and win.”
The Rangers, who went to their only two World Series with Hamilton in their lineup, will be playing at home for the first time since that one-and-done, wild-card 5-1 loss to Baltimore last October. Hamilton was 0 for 4 in that game with two strikeouts, both on three pitches. He swung at the first pitch his other at-bats - including a double-play grounder in the first that sent home the Rangers’ only run.
“I’m not expecting anything I can’t handle,” Hamilton said Thursday. “I figured I’d try to run out there when Albert (Pujols) is announced before me and as they’re booing him, just kind of slide out there behind him so it’s not so bad. … I was booed when I played there. Why would you expect not to be when I’m playing here?”
Hamilton took a $125 million, five-year deal from the Angels after a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 148 games for Texas last season.
He’ll be facing a Rangers staff that has the most strikeouts by any team in the first three games of a season since 1900. Texas is the first team since 1920 with consecutive 15-strikeout games while not allowing a run. Darvish had 14 in a 7-0 win Tuesday, and starter Alexi Ogando struck out 10 in Wednesday’s 4-0 victory at Houston.
Holland is next up for the Rangers after going 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA in 29 appearances - 27 starts - last season. He went 2-2 with a 7.00 ERA in four starts against Los Angeles and owns a career 5.58 ERA in 16 matchups.
Switch-hitter Lance Berkman the veteran free agent Texas has put in the No. 3 spot Hamilton occupied, was 6 for 10 with a double and three RBIs in the season-opening series.
“As time goes on, I think people are going to disconnect him with Texas and connect him more with us. … I think (Texas) fans understand his contributions,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I don’t think Josh gets caught up in that, actually. In the dugout, at the plate, he’s very level-headed and focused.”
After Hamilton made his major league debut with Cincinnati in 2007, the Rangers acquired the slugger in a trade that winter.
“I think it’s cool when we’re beginning the season in Cincinnati, then we go straight to Texas,” Hamilton said. “Just reminds you that these were seasons of your life and they were good seasons of your life, and it’s time to move to a different one.”
Another player beginning his first season with a new team will be on the mound when Jason Vargas (14-11, 3.85 ERA) gets the start for the Angels. The left-hander was acquired from division rival Seattle for power hitter Kendrys Morales on Dec. 19 after setting career bests in wins and starts (33) last season.
Vargas went 1-2 with a 5.04 ERA in four starts against Texas in 2012.