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Hamilton finally is back for good

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 18, 2001


The watch is back on.

Josh Hamilton played Sunday for the first time since June 21, going 2-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI for Class A Charleston.

Then Hamilton did something he hadn't done since April: He played the next night. Monday, the Rays' top prospect was 0-for-2 with a walk, a night sure to stir rumors of the Rays' youth movement reaching the former No. 1 pick.

Hamilton's return is a sign the inflamed back that has dragged him through cortisone shots, a rehab stint in St. Petersburg and a likely appearance in the Arizona Fall League, is past. It also means the tender quads that officials blamed on Hamilton's sitting for more than a month and that kept him out of the lineup the past three weeks have strengthened.

Hamilton's appearance came about a week before his season would have become "a wash" if he weren't playing, Rays general manager Chuck LaMar had said.

Many expected this to be Hamilton's breakout season and even predicted a late call-up to Tampa Bay. Two weeks ago, LaMar said that call-up probably would not happen, although Hamilton's performance (.180 average, 22 strikeouts, no home runs in 23 games with Orlando) was not the reason.

"I don't think you're going to see a lot of the younger players called up in September like we have in past years. Not just us but a lot of teams," LaMar said, referring to off-season labor negotiations that could result in a lockout. If that happened, players on major-league rosters could not be sent to the minors and would receive credit for service time toward free agency.

WATCHFUL EYES: In a move that may be a sign Toby Hall's days in Durham are numbered, Bill Livesey, Rays special assistant to the general manager, and Dan Jennings, the director of scouting, sat behind home plate in Durham on Saturday night to watch the International League's hottest hitter.

Hall made the most of the attention, going 3-for-4 with three doubles.

The Bulls catcher entered Tuesday's game having hit in 18 of his past 21 games. During that stretch he is batting .407 with eight doubles, one triple, a home run and 11 RBI.

MR. UTILITY: There's not a lot Paul Hoover can do to surprise people anymore. He has played every position for Durham this season except centerfield and pitcher, filling in at first base for the injured Ron Wright Sunday. Two home runs in two days, however, might turn some heads.

Hoover homered Sunday for the first time since July 10, 2000, then homered Monday.

NEW GUY, PART I: Scott Vandermeer made his debut in Hudson Valley's starting rotation a memorable one. The 1999 15th-round pick replaced recently promoted James Shields and pitched a complete game Monday night in a 2-1 loss to the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Vandermeer scattered eight hits, allowed two earned runs, walked none and struck out three.

NEW GUY, PART II: While Vandermeer was going the distance for the Renegades, Shields was making his Charleston debut just as memorable. In his first start since being promoted, Shields pitched a shutout against Macon. Shields allowed three hits, walked one and struck out nine.

BULLS PEN: Entering Tuesday night, the Durham bullpen had not allowed a run in 13 innings dating to July 8.

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