Is Ocular Keratitis Still Bothering Josh Hamilton?

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

In his career from 2007 to 2012, Josh Hamilton has played in 83 games in the month of September, which is 28 games less than the next fewest games played in a month for Hamilton (121 in April and May). He averages 14 games played in September per season. Whether it is bad timing or bad luck, Hamilton has had issues staying healthy all the way through to a season’s end.

This season is no different, as Hamilton missed five games last week due to ocular keratitis, a condition that results in dry corneas and difficulty with vision. Hamilton returned to the Texas Rangers’ lineup on Monday, and homered in his third at-bat. He followed the next day by going 2-4. It seemed all was back to normal for the Rangers’ All Star outfielder.

However, on Wednesday, the wheels fell off for Hamilton in what he will hope will be a very forgettable performance. In an 8-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics, nothing went very well for the Rangers, but Hamilton’s performance was so uncharacteristic, it stood out as an even bigger disappointment.

The issues began right from the get-go for both Hamilton and the Rangers. With two runs already in, and runners at 1st and 2nd base and one out, a ground ball single was hit to Hamilton in center field, and this happened:

(There is a part of the video cut from that .gif that was showing the runner rounding third, and the camera switched back to camera to just barely catch the ball going under Hamilton’s glove)

That play essentially gave the Athletics four extra bases, as a one-RBI single effectively became a two-RBI triple.

Two batters later, now with two outs in the inning and four runs already scored, Rangers’ starter Martin Perez induced what appeared to be an inning-ending line drive to center. Here is how Hamilton played it:

This one was officially scored a triple, but it was clearly a play that Hamilton should have made. Once again, it was a four-base mistake. This would chase Perez from the game, and seal the Rangers in a five-run hole in the first inning that they would never recover from.

I pondered at the time if it would be a statement move by manager Ron Washington to pull Hamilton from the game after those two defensive blunders. Perhaps it would send a message to the team that they are in a pennant chase, that this was an important game against the team chasing them, and that there is no room for slack.

However, I don’t think that’s a statement Washington needs to make to his veteran team, and perhaps would have had more negative ramifications concerning Hamilton’s response, or damaging the trust between the manager and his players.

No matter the circumstances, Hamilton would go on to be a disappointment at the plate, as well as in the field. He finished the night 0-4 with two strikeouts. In his four at-bats, he saw fifteen pitches. He swung at ten of those fifteen pitches. He missed on seven of those ten swings. Here were the pitch sequences from his two strikeouts:

As you can see, the Athletics’ Jarrod Parker didn’t throw Hamilton a pitch close to the strike zone, and the mighty slugger obliged him by swinging away anyway.

After the game, Hamilton said that his vision wasn’t bothering him, and that he “felt great”. So perhaps it wasn’t his ocular keratitis flaring up. For the Rangers, after a performance like the one he turned in tonight, I’m not sure if that is more or less comforting. If it was the ocular keratitis, at least there is an obvious culprit to blame, and hope for improvement.

Without that instigator, the issue falls squarely on Hamilton’s shoulders. For the sake of the Rangers and their playoff aspirations, it will be critical that this game isn’t the start of the kind of slump that hijacked Hamilton’s season in June and July.

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