Josh Hamilton was at the plate with the perfect opportunity to once again let everyone forget his struggles on Sunday night. He came to the plate with the Texas Rangers down three runs, having already gone 0-4 at the plate with two strikeouts. It was what has become the typical night for Hamilton, lots of impatience with a strong liking for pitches off the plate. This time however, Hamilton took the first two pitches, which were off the plate and had himself in a hitter's count for what seemed like the first time in forever.
Hamilton has gotten very good at the dramatic hit, which often seems to overshadow the consistent struggles and this was another time that seemed like it could be one of those cases. But even those times are starting to change and this time he swung straight through two fastballs over the middle of the plate, fouled a pitch back to the screen, took one more pitch off the plate and then swung and missed on another Ernesto Frieri fastball. It was his third strikeout of the game and moved the Angels back to within five games of the Rangers.
There is not much else that can be said or documented about what Hamilton is doing at the plate. He has had just about every negative adjective used about his approach at the plate and Ron Washington has even said, "He can make the adjustments and he has, but it seems like it's boring to him."
Those are pretty strong words to come from a player's manager, but should be a big cause for concern when a month before Washington said, "Start thinking a little bit. You don't have to make that big of an adjustment to stop swinging at pitches a foot out of the zone."
Ron Washington has been saying these things for a month now, but Hamilton refuses to make adjustments at the plate. There are times like on Sunday night when there is an adjustment made for a few pitches or even an at bat, but the adjustments do not last and he is back to being a free-swinger. Who knows what is going on with him, but it is time to do something.
Washington could give him an off day, but fatigue is not the issue and he could move him down in the lineup, but most likely will do not so. However, something needs to be done to get his attention. Hamilton is a very interesting ballplayer and person and there are probably very few people who know how to connect to him, but somebody needs to do so. Fans and media members cannot tell how a player is mentally and emotionally, but it does seem that there is unwillingness to adjust. It just simply seems like he wants to do it his way and is unwilling to try a different way.
It would be one thing if this was a ballplayer that had never really experienced success or even experienced success in this specific area, but we are talking about the 2010 American League MVP. In 2010, he hit .359 with a .411 OBP, however, he ironically only walked 43 times. He only walked 39 times last season, but already has 36 this season. It is pretty perplexing that a guy who is swinging at everything, is close to walking more than he has in both of the last two seasons.
There is a pretty simple answer to how that is possible and pitchers and clubs are just now fully taking advantage of it. He is a free-swinger. Yes, we have always known that, but the magnitude is becoming clearer by the day and the adjustments are not coming. They have come in the past, but have not this year. Every team is taking the same approach with him and he is not adjusting in any way.
Hamilton is simply seeing more balls off the plate than ever before and thus he is walking more, but due to his inability to lay off the pitches, he is also striking out more than ever before. He already has stuck out 90 times, while striking out 93 times last season and 95 times in 2010. He should pass those marks over the next week and then the only time he has struck out more times was in 2008 when he struck out 126 times. In 2008 when he had his career high for strikeouts, he struck out an average of 0.81 times per game, but he is striking out 1.03 times per game this season with the number increasing every day. During the past two month he is striking out at a clip of 1.275 times per game.
Change is needed, simple as that. This is not a physical change, it truly is a mental change, but Hamilton has to be willing to make the change. He has to decide his way is not working and for the benefit of the team, he has to make adjustments. He has to listen to his coaches, but in reality could listen to just about anyone on this one.
It is funny, but his unwillingness to change his approach at the plate has reminded me of his unwillingness to change his style of play. There has long been talk that the Rangers would like for him to take a more cautious approach on the field to save some of the wear-and-tear on his body, but he has straight up been unwilling to do so. I have often respected his desire to play the game all-out and still do. That is the way I want everyone to play the game, but I have thought over recent weeks about if there is a different message here about Hamilton the ballplayer and his ability to be coached. As much as I respect the way he plays, it is still his responsibility to listen to his coaching staff and front office. If they have asked him to do different things, he should have done them. Ron Washington has asked him to not go head first into first, but he still does so. There is a constant trend with him, he does it his way.
There are a million questions all of this brings with Hamilton hitting free-agency in the offseason, but the bigger questions are about the next few weeks, a pennant race and an attempt to return to the World Series. For those things to happen the Rangers will need a productive Josh Hamilton and to get that, he is going to have to adjust, because every pitcher in the game has adjusted to him. It has been his move for weeks now.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.