Hamilton aims to atone for injury-riddled season

Angels' LF limited down stretch by upper-body pain; slated to bat seventh

Hamilton aims to atone for injury-riddled season

ANAHEIM -- It's very easy to be skeptical about Josh Hamilton going into the American League Division Series, because he's coming off a poor year, he still isn't fully healthy, and he was only able to play in one of the Angels' last 23 regular-season games with nagging ailments in his right shoulder and right side.

But maybe, in some weird way, these dire circumstances will actually help the Angels' mercurial outfielder.

Maybe going into the postseason without any expectations, and batting lower in the lineup, and not really having the time to tinker with his swing or think about his struggles can finally get Hamilton going.

"I could have been healthy all year and [stunk] in the playoffs, or missed a month and come back and done really well," Hamilton said. "That's the nature of the game. That's what it is. Expectations, as far as not finishing the season where I wanted to be, it [stinks]. But I'm very excited and happy that we're in the playoffs and I have a chance to help my team out in any way I can."

  Date Time Matchup/Result Network
Gm 1 Oct. 2   KC 3, LAA 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   KC 4, LAA 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   KC 8, LAA 3 video

Hamilton will bat seventh and play left field for Thursday's Game 1, with first pitch from Angel Stadium slated for 6:07 p.m. PT on TBS. Angels manager Mike Scioscia made the announcement during a pre-workout news conference Wednesday afternoon, and with it, he officially ended a four-week rehab that felt like an odyssey for his All-Star left fielder.

From Sept. 4 until the final day of the regular season, Hamilton experienced pain that went from his right AC joint to his right trapezius muscle to the area where his right chest and right ribcage meet. On Sept. 20, he received seven cortisone injections to treat "sharp, stabbing pains" in his right side that made it "difficult to breathe."

It wasn't until Sunday morning, hours before the regular-season finale from Safeco Field, that Hamilton was able to strike a baseball without experiencing that troubling sensation.

"There's always pain," Hamilton said. "The point is not having the muscle spasm."

Hamilton is no longer feeling those spasms, but he's also quite rusty.

Outside of some pitches he saw from right-hander Drew Rucinski during Tuesday's workout, Hamilton hasn't seen any velocity since the Sept. 16 game he started at designated hitter and was sandwiched between his shoulder and ribcage ailments. He's hit on the field three times since then, in the three days that bled into Game 1. And he wasn't able to throw without pain until the team showed up to Seattle for its final regular-season series on Friday.

"I think it would be unfair to put on Josh the expectations that everyone would have of what he would do, and that's part of the reason why he's hitting down in the lineup right now," said Scioscia, who will go with Howie Kendrick at Hamilton's customary cleanup spot. "But it wouldn't surprise me if after a couple at-bats you're starting to see him attack the ball the way he can, and we need it. We need Josh. We're hopefully going to see that."

Scioscia -- and Hamilton himself -- keep thinking back to Hamilton's MVP season of 2010, when he missed 24 games with two fractured ribs, came back with three regular-season games left, batted .111 in the ALDS and then was named MVP of the AL Championship Series. He remembers Spring Training, when Hamilton missed three weeks of Cactus League games with a calf strain and didn't miss a beat upon returning in mid-March.

Then again, Hamilton was a different guy then.

"He had his swing down in Spring Training," Angels hitting coach Don Baylor said. "Right before he got hurt, I thought it was going to be one of those MVP-type years for him. I really did. But when you injure your hands, your shoulders, as a hitter, that's one of the toughest things to get over and come back from."

Hamilton batted .444/.545/.741 in the season's first eight games, then injured his left thumb on an ill-fated headfirst slide into first base. He missed eight weeks, lost his power, slumped, spent most of September rehabbing, and now here he is, coming off a second straight down year in an Angels uniform. After batting .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 151 games in 2013, Hamilton hit .263 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games in 2014.

This time, though, he has a chance to salvage it in the postseason.

"I start thinking that way, that puts stress on me," Hamilton scoffed. "I'm going to be healthy, I'm going to play. Like I said before, Spring Training at-bats -- see pitches, put the ball in play and don't try to do too much, because I can't make up for the time I lost."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.