Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton paces all major leaguers in home runs and even slugged four in one game earlier this season. But he wants merely to be an observer July 9 in Kansas City, when American League captain Robinson Cano leads a group of three mashers against National League captain Matt Kemp and his own team of distance swingers.
Which, for obvious reasons, is something that Rangers manager Ron Washington fully supports.
“I didn’t help him with the decision,” Washington told columnist Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday evening. “But when he told me I was very, very happy he’s not doing it. He has so much torque in his swing. If he swings and misses, he could get hurt. And if he’s hurt, we’re hurt.”
Hamilton had to be given IV fluids and oxygen after a game in late May because of dehydration brought on by a combination of high-90s temperatures in Arlington, Texas and a respiratory infection. He also had back problems earlier this year, and appeared in only 121 games in 2011. The Home Run Derby is an awfully taxing event. And there’s even a belief that it can have a negative effect on a hitter’s swing.
Hamilton tallied 32 home runs during the 2008 regular season, but just 11 of those came after he put on a show in the final Derby at the old Yankee Stadium. The 31-year-old impending free agent hasn’t participated in an exhibition hitting competition since that memorable night.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.