HOUSTON -- All-Star voting ends at 10:59 p.m. CT on Thursday, and that's how long Josh Hamilton has to go in trying to maintain his lead for the third and final spot in the American League outfield's starting lineup.Hamilton has been a starter on the AL team for the past three seasons, but his lead over Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is the tightest race at any position. In the last update, Hamilton has received 3,173,000 votes, and that puts him in third place just ahead Ellsbury with 3,051,675 votes. Jose Bautista (5,263,840) of the Blue Jays and Curtis Granderson (4,582,419) of the Yankees hold the top two spots. "If I get voted to go, I will go happily and enjoy it and be proud to represent the Rangers," Hamilton said. "If Ellsbury beats me out, congratulations to him and I will go to the beach for a couple of days." Hamilton is trying to become only the second Rangers player (Ivan Rodriguez) to start four straight All-Star Games. His candidacy this year was hurt when he missed six weeks with a fractured bone in his right arm. But he went into Wednesday's game hitting .297 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. He had a .354 on-base percentage and a .529 slugging percentage over 42 games. Manager Ron Washington said he feels Hamilton is deserving of being selected. "He's the reigning MVP," Washington said. "For the games he has played, he has produced." If Ellsbury jumps into third place, Hamilton could be voted in by the players as a reserve or be added to the team by Washington as the AL manager.
Ryan in favor of Astros moving to AL West
HOUSTON -- Rangers president Nolan Ryan said he would be in favor of the possibility of the Astros moving into the American League West.That's one of the rumors that has been floating around baseball over the past few weeks. Nothing official has been proposed by the Commissioner's Office, and Ryan said he has heard little in the way of an official discussion. But moving the Astros to the AL West would give Major League Baseball six five-team divisions rather than the unbalanced current configuration. Ryan likes the idea of having at least one team from the Central Time Zone in the same division as the Rangers as well as the three West Coast teams.
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"We're at a disadvantage with our television audience of having to go west, so I would be in favor of adding somebody from our time zone," Ryan said. "I think having the Astros and the Rangers in the same pennant race would really stimulate interest in baseball in the state of Texas. If it is in the best interests of the Rangers, we'd be for it."Ryan is in town to watch the Rangers play the Astros in the second half of their annual home-and-home Lone Star Series. The Rangers went into Wednesday's game with a 3-1 lead in the series. The Rangers also went into Wednesday's game with a 1 1/2 game lead over the Angels in the AL West. Ryan said his biggest frustration with the Rangers has been their inconsistency. "When you watch our ballclub, they go through periods where they don't play well, and then they'll have a stretch where they play well," Ryan said. "It's just not one part of the team, it has been a team effort. One night we won't get the big hit, the next night our starting pitching falters and then our bullpen waivers." The bullpen remains the Rangers' main focus. They have been talking to other teams but are also hoping to get Darren O'Day, Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter off the disabled list at some point between now and the All-Star break. That may reduce the need for the Rangers to make an impact deal, and Ryan was cautious about saying the club would be able to do that. "The thing about making a statement like that is it comes down to who might be available," Ryan said. "It's premature to make a statement like that when you're not sure who will be available. If the right person is out there, you try to do something to help the ballclub."
Wilson delivering on the hill in contract year
HOUSTON -- C.J. Wilson's victory over the Astros on Tuesday night left him with a record of 8-3 with a 3.14 ERA. It also puts him at the top -- as far as performance -- among the list of starting pitchers who could be free agents at the end of this season.Wilson is among 20 potential free-agent starting pitchers who have made at least 12 starts so far this season. That list includes pitchers with club or player options, as well as CC Sabathia, who has the chance to opt out of a contract that pays him $23 million annually through 2015. Of those 19 pitchers, only Erik Bedard (4-6, 3.00 ERA) of the Mariners and Huroki Kuroda (5-9, 3.10) of the Dodgers have a lower ERA than Wilson. After Wilson comes Paul Maholm of the Pirates, who is 4-8 with a 3.21 ERA and then Sabathia (10-4, 3.25), Freddy Garcia (7-6, 3.28), Jason Marquis (7-2, 3.62), Aaron Harang (7-2, 3.71), Mark Buehrle (6-5, 3.73) and Livan Hernandez (5-8, 3.71). Wilson is second on the list in innings pitched. He has pitched 117 2/3 innings, while Sabathia has pitched 122 innings. Wilson is fourth on the list with 7.65 strikeouts per nine innings and fifth with 11.55 baserunners per nine innings. Of those 20 pitchers, Wilson, who turns 31 in November, is the fourth youngest behind Edwin Jackson (4-6, 4.13), Maholm and Jeff Francis (3-9, 4.79). Over the past two years, Wilson is 23-11 with a 3.27 ERA in 50 starts since moving to the rotation. That .676 winning percent is tied for the eighth best among any starting pitcher with at least 20 decisions since the beginning of the 2010 season.
Napoli, Andrus close to returning to action
HOUSTON -- Catcher Mike Napoli, who has been on the disabled list since June 12 with a strained left oblique, is scheduled to join Triple-A Round Rock on a medical rehabilitation assignment on Thursday. The plan is for him to play four games with Round Rock and be activated on Monday.Napoli is scheduled to catch Scott Feldman on Thursday, play first base on Friday, catch again on Saturday and be used at designated hitter on Sunday. Shortstop Elvis Andrus was out of the Rangers' lineup for the fourth straight game on Wednesday but could be in the lineup on Thursday. That is, if manager Ron Washington decides that will be the case. Andrus, who has been sidelined with a sprained left wrist, said he is ready to go. He took more batting practice and ground balls on Wednesday without any problems. "I'm ready to go tonight if they need me," Andrus said before Wednesday's game. Washington said it will be Thursday or Friday. Washington often likes to give a player an extra day of rest before getting him back into the lineup after an injury.
Rangers pitchers Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day -- both on medical rehabilitation assignments -- are scheduled for an inning of work on Thursday for Round Rock. They will follow Scott Feldman, who is hoping to pitch seven innings. Tuesday marked the first time that all nine Rangers starters -- including the pitcher -- got at least one hit in a game since Aug. 18, 1972. Pitcher Dick Bosman was 1-for-3 in that game. C.J. Wilson's triple on Tuesday was the first by an American League pitcher since Johan Santana of the Twins on June 24, 2007 against the Marlins. There have only been six triples by American League pitchers since 1974 -- Wilson, Santana, Kenny Rogers, Chris Michalak, James Baldwin and Omar Olivares.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.