Commentary

Hamilton's costly headfirst slide

Outfielder's injury costs the Angels' bottom line as well as the team on the field

Originally Published: April 9, 2014
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- When will players ever learn NOT to dive headfirst into first base? Especially when their team is paying them $25 million a season for five years?

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said you never want to coach the athleticism out of a player because that athleticism keeps them safe on some plays.

On the other hand...

"You certainly wince when you see a guy going headfirst into home plate or diving into first base like that because it's something that is probably not as natural as other plays around the field."

Unfortunately, Angels fans are still wincing after Josh Hamilton dove into first base in Tuesday night's 5-3 loss against the Mariners. Both he and the Angels are paying the price -- Hamilton tore the ligament in his left thumb and likely will miss the next six to eight weeks.

"It's definitely unfortunate but I think as a team you have to be deep enough to absorb injuries to players," Scioscia said before Wednesday's game. "Josh is a special talent who was off to a great start for us and we'll do our best to fill that void until he comes back. I think over the years we've had a lot of our key players miss significant time but we've been able to absorb it with depth and move on. And that's what the focus will be the next six to eight weeks."

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesThe Angels gave Josh Hamilton big money to tear up pitchers at the plate, not to get busted up on the basepaths.

There is no good time for injuries, but this one is particularly painful now. One, Hamilton was off to a good start, hitting .400/.545/.741 the first week after a very poor 2013 season. Two, the Angels got off to terrible Aprils the past two seasons that effectively crippled their seasons. As it is, they entered Wednesday's game with a record of 3-5, with those three wins all against the Astros.

And all this is despite owner Arte Moreno investing almost $600 million in four players -- Hamilton ($125 million over five years), Albert Pujols ($240 million over 10 years), C.J. Wilson ($77.5 million over five years) and Mike Trout (who just signed a $150 million contract extension). And that's not counting the $25 million they still owe the departed Vernon Wells and Joe Blanton.

Trout is the best player in the game and could get even better, while Wilson was 17-7 with a 3.39 ERA last year. But Pujols and Hamilton have been disappointing at best in Anaheim. Pujols' OPS has declined each of the past five seasons, he is coming off a bad plantar fasciitis injury and is off to a poor start this year as well (a .219 batting average with a .723 OPS).

So while Scioscia says they will have to absorb Hamilton's injury with depth, there is a real question as to whether they can.

Anaheim's initial move was to call up J.B. Shuck to platoon with Collin Cowgill in left field. Scioscia said the team would mix and match with the lineup but he would like to keep right fielder Kole Calhoun in the leadoff spot with Trout and Pujols batting second and third, respectively.

"We're gonna have guys step up," Trout said. "Shuck will be playing. Cowgill. Raul Ibanez could play some left. I don't know what [Scioscia] is going to do but we saw what Shuck did last year and he's pretty good. We just have to handle it in stride."

While Hamilton's injury affects the outfield and lineup, Scioscia said the key will be the pitching. "The first week of the season has shown when we pitch well, we win and that's where our focus has to be," he said. "And if we pitch well, we can certainly absorb this for whatever the time frame is going to be."

Unfortunately, pitching was not a strong suit last year (24th in ERA), and ace Jered Weaver ($85 million over five years) has a 6.00 ERA so far this season with decreasing velocity. He and Wilson will have to pitch well, as will prospect Tyler Skaggs, whom the Angels acquired for Mark Trumbo.

So Hamilton's injury was not good news for the Angels. But at least there was one silver lining in the radioactive cloud of injury: Trout said he never dives headfirst into first base.

"I heard it slows you down," Trout said. "I like to dive headfirst into second or third but they say you lose a step and it slows your momentum down. And there is the risk of getting hurt."

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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