Josh Hamilton took another big step Wednesday as he attempts to get back on a major league field next month — he attempted to stop the back-and-forth with his former team.
The Texas Rangers outfielder, acquired via a trade Monday after a messy breakup with the Los Angeles Angels, didn’t take the bait when offered a chance to give his response to manager Mike Scioscia telling reporters about his disappointment that Hamilton hasn’t been accountable to his ex-teammates.
Hamilton said that he hadn’t even heard about what Scioscia said.
“I’d like to keep it that way so I don’t have to respond,” Hamilton said. “I don’t have to respond anyway. It doesn’t matter what he said. It’s of no importance. I’m not there anymore. I’m here, and I’ll try to do my responding the best way on the field against them.”
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To be at his best, though, he needs to be much better than he was with the Angels. He believes the path to getting there is a fine-tuned swing and a smarter approach at the plate.
The swing will be fine. The approach and discipline will be a challenge for a player who is a notorious free swinger.
“I’ve gone back and looked at video of really good games,” Hamilton said. “It’s not my swing is different than it is now. It was pitch selection and where the pitches were. They were all in a box.”
Hamilton swung at first pitches 43.9 percent of the time since he broke into the majors in 2007, a stat that ranks as the fourth-highest mark in the majors. He was sixth at 40.6 percent in 2010, when he won the American League MVP, and would have ranked 11th last season at 39.1 had he had enough at-bats to qualify.
For his career, he has swung at 38.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone and made contact on 56 percent of his swings at pitches out of the zone. That number was 45.8 percent in 2014.
Compare that to Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who has swung at 37.1 percent of pitches off the plate but made contact on 71.6 percent of them. Hamilton has been swinging and missing far more than many others in the majors when he has chased.
“The book on me is, ‘Let him get himself out. Throw it close, but nibble and see if he’ll get himself out,’” Hamilton said. “I’ll try to do better in that area.”
The swing will be better after Hamilton had right shoulder surgery Feb. 4. Keith Meister, the Rangers’ team physician, cleaned up the AC joint and other muscles in the shoulder, and within a day Hamilton had less pain and far better range of motion.
The ailing shoulder was causing bad mechanics. While he thought he was extending his hands straight back while loading up for a swing, video showed him that his hands were actually going up and back.
He said that result was less pop and more empty swings as he brought his hands and weight to the ball at the same time. With the shoulder fixed, he said that he should be able to let the ball travel deeper and see it longer.
Dwayne Murphy, the Rangers’ minor league outfield instructor, worked with Hamilton again Wednesday at extended spring training. A former assistant at Toronto, Murphy had seen Hamilton’s swing while with the Rangers and Angels.
“It looks better than it did in Anaheim, that’s for sure,” said Murphy, a former Gold Glove winner with Oakland. “He’s got the confidence. He’s eager to go. Most of the time the problems with hitting are mental. To me, he seems like he’s in a good place.”
Hamilton did conditioning work, threw and took ground balls before doing tee work and taking flips from Murphy in the batting cages. Hamilton expects that his workouts will become more intense in a few days and then will accelerate each day until he shows that he is ready to join a full-season team, likely Triple A Round Rock and likely after eight more days at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
His expectations have always been to produce seasons with a .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Though he will be missing the first six or seven weeks of the season, he expects to be a productive player and take care of his body better on the field.
That means having a better idea of when to bounce into a wall or when to lay out for a ball in the alley. It also means not taking as much of a pounding on the base paths.
Hamilton wants to be a smarter player. That starts with his approach and discipline at the plate.
Josh Hamilton said that the health of his right shoulder has helped him fix his swing. He also wants to fix his approach at the plate. A look at how often he swings at pitches outside the strike zone and how often he makes contact on those swings:
Swing outside zone