Hamilton is expected to have surgery in the next few days and spend the following six to eight weeks in recovery because he dove into first base and tore a ligament in his left thumb, the sort of ailment that tends to travel with a hitter for many weeks if not many months.
He'd had a heckuva week, the kind the Angels had in mind when they invested in him $125 million over five years and left the pitching staff pretty much as it was, lived with that decision and, in part because Hamilton wasn't very good, finished in third place in the AL West.
Even the play that killed Hamilton's first half – starting with the grounder to the left side – was emblematic of the polished hitter who'd shown up in his second camp with the club. Like the slugger he'd been for years in Texas, Hamilton was comfortable again riding pitches the other way. He was bigger, stronger, more authoritative in his at-bats, clearly more confident and evidently more conscious of pitchers' strategies against him.
Then, with the Angels rallying back from being swept at home in their opening series, Hamilton flung himself at first base, was called out in a play that wasn't particularly close, scooped up his helmet, shook his hand, came out of the game, endured diagnostic tests and was informed he'd spend perhaps the next two months watching baseball. The Angels recalled outfielder J.B. Shuck to take Hamilton's place on the roster.
Three years ago, Hamilton went headfirst into home plate and suffered a non-displaced fracture of the humerus bone in his upper arm, which cost him six weeks.
(Three days ago, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig dove into first base and hasn't played since. He is wearing a splint on his left thumb.)
So, the Angels find themselves again in a vulnerable place. Prone to slow starts in recent seasons, their primary goal in spring was to prepare for a reasonable April. The Seattle Mariners ran them off the field in their first series, and the Houston Astros provided a way back in the next series, and after eight games the Angels were a decent offensive team that pitched to a 5.01 ERA.
The best among them had been Hamilton. Counting the fateful ground ball, he hit .444 with two home runs and six RBIs batting primarily in the cleanup spot, where he'd help to protect Albert Pujols and Mike Trout.
In other news, Pujols is batting .219, Erick Aybar .179, Raul Ibanez .192, Chris Iannetta .095 and David Freese .200.
On opening day, the hitting coach, Don Baylor, broke his leg during the pregame ceremony.
The lineup – bounce-back years from Hamilton and Pujols, more of the same from Trout, the additions of Freese and Ibanez – was what the Angels had going for them. And yet, here they are, so far unable to rescue the pitching staff, and now without an MVP-type talent and their hottest hitter.
"The news sucks," Hamilton told reporters in Seattle. "Any time you're playing hard and having fun, the last thing you want to do … is miss time and hurt the team."
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