Hamilton can't deny 'weird' feeling in Angels debut
Slugger officially digs in with new team, adjusting to cleanup spot, right field
TEMPE, Ariz. -- For exactly two weeks, dating back to the very first day he arrived in camp, Josh Hamilton has been getting used to life with the Angels. He's studied the clubhouse personalities, familiarized himself with the coaching staff, tried to settle into some sort of a routine and slowly taken in everything that comes with suiting up for the division rival he's been bumping heads with the last five years.
But something about Tuesday -- site of his first game, uneventful as it may have turned out to be -- still felt different.
"It was weird today, being in the dugout and having the uniform actually on," Hamilton admitted. "I walked by [Jered Weaver] and said, 'This is kind of weird.' He said, 'Yeah, it is -- but I like it.'"
Best part of spring games is the fans. Thanks for coming out and showing ur support.- Josh Hamilton (@thejoshhamilton) February 27, 2013
Hamilton went 0-for-3 against the D-backs' split-squad team at Tempe Diablo Stadium. He hit a hard grounder to shortstop in his first plate appearance, a flare to center field in his second and -- while using Mark Trumbo's bat because he broke his third and final one on a foul ball -- a higher flyout to center in his third.
After swinging at the very first pitch he saw, Hamilton consciously took the first pitch the next time up, then smiled at hitting coach Jim Eppard, who's been working with the outfielder on the patience that has mostly eluded him.
"He's been trying to get me to do it in batting practice and stuff," said Hamilton, who proceeded to put the next pitch in play. "I hadn't been too successful. So I took that for him."
If there's one thing Hamilton is working on this spring, it's being more selective and drawing more walks. After a season in which he swung at a Major League-leading 45.4 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, mostly the fault of a vicious second-half slump, he sees room for improvement.
"It's about helping your team out," Hamilton said, "because up and down the lineup you have guys who can drive in runs, so if I can just get on base …"
But the lefty slugger also doesn't want to tweak too much with an approach that has helped lead to five straight All-Star Game starts and a .912 OPS from 2008-12.
"If it's around the strike zone, I usually like to swing," Hamilton said. "… If it's late in the game or something like that and you need a real tough at-bat, it's different. But you have a better chance swinging at three strikes than one."
"I don't know if it's drawing walks," manager Mike Scioscia added, "but it's definitely getting good pitches to hit is what is key for Josh, more so than any other hitter because he just has incredible power to all fields."
Besides the occasional offseason phone call to David Murphy, Hamilton says he hasn't really kept in touch with any of his Rangers teammates since signing a stunning five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels in December.
Thanks to a new diet, he came into camp lighter than normal, at the same 225 pounds he finished the season with. Throughout camp, he's been his usual playful self. But for the most part -- besides those controversial remarks about his former city not being a true baseball town -- Hamilton has stayed out of the way, quietly going about the task of adjusting to a new team, a relatively new spot in the lineup (cleanup) and a rather unfamiliar position in the outfield (right field).
It's a process.
"It's strange a little bit," Hamilton said, "but the more time I spend out here with the guys, the more comfortable I get. The newness will wear off eventually, just like it does everywhere else."
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.