Tuesday, July 24, 2012 Updated: July 25, 2:38 PM ET
Josh Hamilton must play starring role
By Jean-Jacques Taylor ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton is so much better than the occasionally disinterested, distracted unproductive hitter we've seen the past two months.
After all, we've seen him win an MVP award and deliver clutch hits in the postseason.
But we've never seen him scuffle like this.
If Josh Hamilton practices patience at the plate opposing pitchers will eventually throw him strikes.
Some folks think he's worried about his contract -- he's a free agent at the end of the season -- and he's trying to earn another million with every swing. Others wonder if he has been distracted by the movie about his life that's apparently in the works.
Another group believes his quest to give up chewing tobacco has affected his rhythm and his swing.
My theory: It's always about the money.
There's a reason so many players don't want to negotiate contracts during the season. It's too hard to stay focused when your agent is forever presenting scenarios with 10-digit salaries.
Understand, just because Hamilton is not discussing a new deal with the Texas Rangers doesn't mean the contract isn't on his mind.
It is. You can tell.
All you have to do is study his at bats over the past couple of months.
Hamilton has been swinging at everything within a foot of the plate because he wants desperately to put up the numbers that will lead to a mega-contract.
The irony, of course, is that being so aggressive has put him in an awful place at he plate.
Since June 1, he's hitting .201 with 7 homers and 24 RBIs, while striking out 53 times.
The book is out in the American League, and it ain't changing until Hamilton makes opposing pitchers throw him strikes.
Here's what he must do: Accept the walks and let Adrian Beltre do what he does best as the cleanup hitter.
After he walks a few times -- he has just 17 since June 1 -- then pitchers will eventually start throwing him strikes again. When that happens, Hamilton can sit on certain pitches in specific zones and pulverize the ball.
It's the cycle of baseball.
It's not complicated, but it's up to Hamilton to accept the reality of his situation.
This team isn't good enough to hold off the Los Angeles Angels with a rotation in tatters and Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz searching for consistency at the plate.
The Rangers need Hamilton to start playing like Hamilton the superstar -- not the dude whose apologists actively seek out excuses for when he doesn't perform to the standard he has established for himself.
Last year, he couldn't hit in day games because he had blue eyes; this season he's hitting .307.
In the past couple of weeks, some folks have suggested he was worn out from the All-Star activities.
The Rangers had eight All-Stars and none of the others seemed especially tired after the honor of being selected to represent the American League.
Then there's the group that suggested Hamilton might need a mental health day since he's struggling. If the Rangers hadn't had two days off in their first week after the All-Star break that might make sense.
What Hamilton must do is accept the responsibility that comes from being a star and reject the excuses.
The past two games, Hamilton is finally putting in the work and going through the process it takes to emerge from a slump. Talent alone won't do it.
Slump busting requires hard work. You have to grind through a slump.
Hamilton didn't get a hit in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Boston, but he had several good at-bats and drove in the Rangers' only run.
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On Monday night, he doubled to left and lofted a sacrifice fly to center. During batting practice on Tuesday, he lashed line drive after line drive to center field and left-center, an indication he's waiting for the ball instead of lunging at it.
"His approach was good tonight compared to what it has been," Washington said. "He's starting to slow down and make some good passes at the ball."
This week, Hamilton has also been doing some drills with batting coach Scott Coolbaugh that he used to do with former assistant hitting coach Johnny Narron, who's now with Milwaukee.
The drills are designed to slow down Hamilton's swing and give him more time to recognize the pitch.
"It's a pause drill," Coolbaugh said. "I get him in the hitting position and then toss him the ball, or he'll hit it off a tee.
"The last couple of days he's not jumping at the ball, and there are some signs that he's putting himself in better position to hit the ball. I think it's coming. We're just trying to get him to slow down."
Whatever it takes.
The Rangers won't fend off the Angels in the AL West with a faux star hitting in the middle of the lineup. They need the Hamilton who's among the best players in the game to accomplish their goals.