Josh Hamilton reveals “mystery issue” is chewing tobacco

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Josh Hamilton has yet to reveal the nature of the mystery issue he’s repeatedly made cryptic comments about for the past week, but Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the former MVP’s inability to quit chewing tobacco is the source.

Hamilton unsuccessfully tried to quit last year and then went public with a follow-up effort last month, but apparently it didn’t take.

Considering how open he’s been about the chewing tobacco habit in the past it seems a little odd that he’d be so cryptic about the situation this time around, particularly since his comments led to speculation about a variety of potential off-field issues and caused both manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels to address the situation.

Here’s the initial Hamilton comments that started all the rumors and speculation last week:

I’ve been shown a lot of things over the past week. There’s disobedience and there’s obedience to God. I’ve been being disobedient. It may be a small thing to you, but it’s a big thing to him. There’s consequences. It’s like a father and a kid. There are disciplines. You guys can chew on that and think about it.

I suppose “you guys can chew on that” was a hint. Or maybe not. And then last night Hamilton declined to reveal any details, saying “people are not going to understand” and “it’s nobody’s business.”

Hamilton has been in an extended slump at the plate, going from the best player in baseball early this season to hitting just .201 with 59 strikeouts and a .674 OPS in 49 games since June 1 and .178 since July 1. He’s shown some signs of life recently, going 2-for-5 with four RBIs last night and 6-for-19 (.316) with three extra-base hits in his last four games.

UPDATE: Hamilton issued the following statement:

Due to the speculation that occurred from my recent comments, I felt it was important to clarify what the “issue” was to which I was referring–both personally and professionally. The issue is “discipline.” Professionally, it’s been plate discipline. Personally, it’s been being obedient to the Lord in quitting chewing tobacco. I was hesitant to address the tobacco once again, because it’s an area that I’ve struggled with trying to quit in the past. I wanted to have some time of success “under my belt” before addressing again publicly, but feel I haven’t been given that option with all of the speculating out there as to what the “mystery issue” was. But there you have it. Discipline. Hebrews 12:4-5 and John 3:30.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.