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08/30/08 10:38 PM ET
Hamilton feeling wrath of the spotlight
Slugger tails off since midseason, slowed by multiple factors
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton chatted with Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira during batting practice on Friday night. One of the topics was making it through a full season in the Texas heat. Teixeira, who was the Rangers first baseman for 4 1/2 years, was pretty good at it. In his four full seasons with the Rangers, Teixeira's combined on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was 64 points higher in the second half than the first half. "He told me obviously you have to get your sleep at night and eat right," Hamilton said. "He also said you don't have to [take batting practice] every day. You've got to make sure you're both mentally and physical ready. He said what worked for him is not hitting every day. You know how to hit -- if you don't hit every day, you're not going to lose it." Teixeira told Hamilton that he'll learn how to handle it with experience. Hamilton is experiencing it right now and it has become a daily battle. There's no question that Hamilton's first full season has worn him down a bit. "Yeah, I'm trying to figure it out and trying to do what's best to get through the day," Hamilton said. "Physically, I don't feel as bad as I thought. Mentally is the biggest part. Physically, I've never been through this before so mentally I'm grinding through it. "Obviously we've fell off as far as our playing -- it doesn't look like we're going to make the playoffs -- so I've just told myself to be ready every day and do the best you can." The results haven't been the same. Hamilton's numbers have fallen off significantly since the All-Star break. He hit .310 with a .552 slugging percentage before the break. He went into Saturday's game against the Angels hitting .257 with a .480 slugging percentage since the All-Star break. He's still leading the league in RBIs with 116, but remember, he had 95 at the All-Star break. Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel pointed out Hamilton has had four fly balls caught on the warning track in the first four games of this road trip. Hamilton entered Saturday's game having played in 130 of 136 games. Various injuries limited him to 90 games for the Reds last year and 11 more on rehab assignment in the Minors. He played just 15 games in the Minors in 2005 after missing 3 1/2 seasons because of his issues with drugs and alcohol. "He's fatigued, sure," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But that's when your mental toughness kicks in. This will be good for him as he moves forward. It's a grind." The Rangers' hope in Spring Training was to get Hamilton in 140 games. He should fly by that easily. Washington has tried to get Hamilton more time off, but the player has resisted the manager's efforts. He had a day off in Kansas City but that was because he needed oral surgery on a tooth. (Hamilton also departed Saturday night's game in the fifth inning with pain related to that root canal work.) "I don't think that counts as a day off," Washington said. "Somewhere along the lines though, I have to find a way to get him a couple of days off." Washington, in the past, has been able to get Hamilton at least a partial day off by using him at designated hitter. But right now that job is occupied by Milton Bradley, who is unable to play in the outfield because of his various injuries. Hamilton has not only played more than the Rangers expected, he has had to deal with significantly more attention and publicity than anybody anticipated. He was basically the No. 1 story at the All-Star Game in New York in July. He remains accommodating to the media, but the attention has only let up slightly. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard to be accommodating all the time," Hamilton said. "I've done less stuff since the All-Star Game as far as the media. Sometime I forget myself I'm playing more games than I've ever had. People forget that, fans, players, whatever. "Obviously I want to finish strong, it's important to finish strong," Hamilton said. "It's easy to start off good. It would be good for my confidence to finish strong." Hamilton would also still like to lead the Major Leagues in RBIs. He has been leading since almost the beginning of the season but doesn't have the commanding lead he once did. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has 113. "It would mean a lot, but if it doesn't happen then it doesn't happen," Hamilton said. "This is just my second year; hopefully I'll have a lot more chances. No matter what happens, at the end of the year, obviously I'll feel like I had a good season."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.