ARLINGTON, Texas — Josh Hamilton understands why Nolan Ryan believes the struggling Texas Rangers slugger sometimes appears to be giving away at-bats.
“I love and respect Nolan to death. He’s a competitor. He’s still a competitor and was a big-time competitor,” Hamilton said Wednesday. “I believe he cares so much for us as players, almost like a grandfather would, that when he sees us not performing or doing the things we need to do, it frustrates him. I understand why it frustrates him.”
Hamilton wore a replica of the New York Knights jersey used by the character Roy Hobbs in the movie “The Natural” while responding to comments the Rangers president and Hall of Fame pitcher made during his weekly radio appearance.
During his segment Monday on ESPN Dallas, Ryan said some of Hamilton’s recent at-bats haven’t been very impressive because he doesn’t work deep into counts and is swinging at a lot of bad pitches.
“He just doesn’t seem to be locked in at all,” Ryan said. “So what you’re hoping is that his approach will change and he’ll start giving quality at-bats because there’s a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away.”
Manager Ron Washington later said he agreed with Ryan’s assessment.
Going into Wednesday night’s game against Boston, Hamilton was hitting .199 in 156 at-bats over 42 games since the start of June. The five-time All-Star was hitting a season-low .290 overall, though his 28 homers were second in the AL and his 81 RBIs tied for the major league lead.
“When I’m swinging at pitches out of the zone and I’m hitting them, it’s no big deal,” Hamilton said. “But when I’m swinging at them and missing them, it’s a big deal.”
Hamilton, who was hitting .404 in mid-May, drove in the Rangers’ only run Tuesday night. It was a weak infield groundout, and after he got back to the dugout he uncharacteristically slammed his batting helmet back into the rack.
While Hamilton never said Wednesday if he felt he was giving away at-bats, he expressed confidence that he would break out of his slump. He said his problem has been more mental than physical and that he’s not planning any big changes in his mechanics.
Even though Hamilton rarely looks at video, he said he has been watching a three-minute tape put together for him of some of his at-bats from earlier in the season.
“Not a real big difference of anything mechanically, so that tells you a lot right there,” Hamilton said. “Pitch selection and being in good hitting position to allow the pitch selection to happen. Because if you’re not, you’ve got a lot of moving parts or your head’s moving or you’re moving back or moving forward, the ball speeds up and the pitcher can put it where he needs to.”
Hamilton said he needs to focus on making pitchers throw him strikes, or at least something close enough that he can do something with them. And he has gone back to a few hitting drills that worked for him in the past.
“It’s a constant battle,” Hamilton said. “But that’s what makes the game fun, frustrating. You hate it, you love it.”