October 14, 2011
Through nine games and 39 plate appearances, the Texas Rangers slugger — who connected for 25 homers in 121 games during the regular season — has yet to go yard in the first two rounds against Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers pitching. If you look back even further, you'll find that Hamilton has hit only two home runs since Sept. 18.
That's a fairly significant power outage for a hitter of Hamilton's caliber. One that probably comes with some sort of underlying circumstance.
As we learned on Thursday, there indeed is a good explanation for his extended power slump. According to Hamilton, he's been playing through a painful left groin strain for about the last month, which is sapping his strength at the plate.
As Hamilton explained it, he's able to play through the discomfort, but since the strain is to his back leg, it has limited the most important part of his game. That being his ability to generate power and drive the baseball to all parts of the field. The only way for Hamilton to get that back would be rest, and rest is not a realistic option in October.
"This is the playoffs, and you just have to work through it, deal with it," Hamilton said. "There'll be plenty of time to rest and get it right in the offseason."
The result of the ailment is Hamilton morphing into more of a Todd Helton(notes)-type hitter in the postseason. Helton, whose power eroded due to chronic back issues, has extended his career by understanding his limitations and accepting a supporting role. Not surprisingly, Hamilton is showing he can excel in a similar role, producing singles (six), doubles (five), while knocking in six runs and maintaining his respected presence in the middle of the Rangers order.
Of course, Texas is more than happy to accept that, because he's still contributing and Nelson Cruz(notes) is picking up the slack in the power department, having already set an LCS record with five home runs in the first five games. As long as Cruz or someone else continues filling in the blanks, the Rangers should be OK not getting what they're used to from Hamilton at the plate.
Away from the plate, Hamilton hasn't looked any worse for the wear so far. Manager Ron Washington has felt comfortable using him in center field throughout the postseason. I haven't noticed any limitations there. He also seems to be running the bases well enough, scoring easily from second base on a single in Thursday's Game 5 loss to Detroit.
You always hear athletes talk about knowing when to get off the field because they're hurting their team. Right now, there's no obvious reason for Hamilton to not continue pushing through the pain. He's in no way hurting his team, and he's pretty much confirming that at 80-85 percent, he's still more effective than most at 100 percent.
Speaking of being 100 percent: Coming into the ALCS I mentioned staying healthy would be a key to the Rangers advancing to the World Series. Hamilton's strain aside, they've had much better luck in that regard than Detroit, which lost Magglio Ordonez(notes) for the season with a broken ankle and are currently running out three regulars — Delmon Young(notes), Victor Martinez(notes) and Alex Avila(notes) — playing through noticeable pain.
Given the Rangers' track record for pains and pulls, who would have figured they would be the team playing closer to full strength?
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