ANAHEIM, Calif. — Day after day, it’s the same thing. Josh Hamilton comes to the ballpark, takes his swings in the batting cage and then hopes something good will finally happen.
Maybe this is the game where he finds the source of his struggles. Maybe this at-bat will turn around his season. Maybe he won’t strike out, or hit into a double play, or hear the boos he hears so often this season.
But no. It’s the same thing. One game folds into the next, but nothing changes.
Hamilton, the Angels’ $125-million right fielder, is all talked out. He avoids reporters after games, as he did Tuesday night when he came to the plate with seven runners on base and hit into three double plays and struck out twice in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the Mariners.
He has nothing to say. How can he possibly explain his offensive troubles when he doesn’t understand himself why he’s batting .210 with 75 strikeouts? Who hits 43 home runs and drives in 128 one season, then falls inexplicably flat the next?
“That’s a tough night for Josh, but nobody feels it more than Josh,” manager Mike Scioscia said after Tuesday’s loss. “He wants to contribute so bad, and right now he’s struggling with some things.”
It’s not just right now; it’s all season. Hamilton’s batting average hasn’t been above .234, and in this month, through 16 games, he’s hitting .181. He’s had more than two hits in a game just three times.
To his credit, he’s not sulking, at least not visibly. He walks through the Angels dugout in the early afternoon and taps a reporter on the knee with his glove, his way of saying hello. But he still swings wildly at breaking balls below the knee and can’t resist chasing pitches out of the strike zone.
There is no real remedy except to wait him out. You don’t put a guy making as much money as he is – and who arrived in Anaheim to enormous fanfare – on the bench to clear his mind. Scioscia has moved him to the second spot in the batting order in the hope he would see more strikes hitting ahead of Albert Pujols, but that hasn’t worked.
On Wednesday, Hamilton was dropped to seventh against Seattle lefty Joe Saunders, the lowest spot he’s hit in this year.
“We’ve tried a lot of different things,” Scioscia said. “There’s definitely patience involved. There’s some proactive things to try to get him into his comfort level in the batter’s box, but the bottom line is we’re not just winding him up and putting him out there. He’s not just going through the motions.”
Hamilton has sorted through videotape of past seasons to find the right stance, or the right positioning of his hands, or the swing that brought him success in the past. He’s a .304 career hitter with 171 home runs, so he knows he’s capable of fixing whatever is wrong.
He’s faced adversity in the past, not the least of which were his substance-abuse problems that put him out of the game for three years when he was still a kid. So there is every reason to believe he can dig himself out of this hole, as deep as it is.
He hit a home run and drove in two Monday night against Seattle, but that achievement was gone and forgotten by Tuesday. The unforgiving boos came down every time he grounded out to kill a rally. And when he had a chance to put the Angels in front in the seventh or win the game in the ninth with a runner at second, he struck out.
“He takes his lack of production very hard,” Scioscia said. “He’s very serious about it. He knows what he means to our club, and he’s working hard at it. He’ll get through it.”