It was bad enough that Jeff Hamilton went hitless in four at-bats Thursday, maintaining his spring average at .000.
It was bad enough that his right hand, swollen after three weeks of constant use, was still hurting.
But now, suddenly, the pain behind his right shoulder has returned.
In what has been a successful rehabilitation, he said, nothing could be worse.
“I can’t believe it,” Hamilton said in frustration after the Dodgers had lost to the Atlanta Braves, 12-2. “Sometimes I just want to shoot myself. For the first time, for an extended period of time, this knot in my shoulder is back. I don’t know what to think.”
This was the same pain that prevented Hamilton from returning to the lineup last season after undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery May 4.
It was the same pain that made the Dodgers wonder if Hamilton should not have undergone a second operation.
It was also the same pain that Hamilton thought had vanished forever after he responded well in batting practice and fielding drills during the first two weeks of camp.
“My shoulder has been great, I think it still is basically fine,” Hamilton said. “I just wish I knew what that pain was.”
Hamilton will have the shoulder checked today if it is still hurting. His batting difficulties will not be so easy to examine.
Although his fielding has convinced the Dodgers that he is sound enough to be the opening-day starter, they are beginning to wonder why he can’t find his swing. He is hitless in 12 spring at-bats, with six strikeouts.
“It seems like there is nothing wrong with his arm,” Manager Tom Lasorda said. “Maybe, coming back from that injury, he is just struggling to get comfortable.”
Since coming to camp, Hamilton has said that he doesn’t want the job given to him simply because his shoulder feels good.
“I want to earn this thing, I want to show people I should be there, and maybe I’m trying too hard to do that,” Hamilton said. “I’m pressing too much. I’m expecting too much.
“I know I haven’t played in a long time, but I should at least be hitting the ball.”
He sighed. “I don’t know what is happening,” he said, “But I really want things to get better.”
One of Hamilton’s potential replacements at third base, Stan Javier, twisted his knee sliding into second base during a double play in Thursday’s loss, the Dodgers’ fifth in seven games.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to break up the double play, but I try to win, no matter who we are playing,” said Javier, who will have the knee checked today.
Brett Butler had a not-so-pleasant meeting with Stan Kasten, the Atlanta Braves’ president, before Thursday’s game. After signing with the Dodgers as a free agent, Butler openly wondered about the way the Braves conducted themselves in negotiations by refusing to make a high offer until the Boston Red Sox made a high offer. “Stan came up to me and said, ‘You didn’t have to blow me up in the paper last winter,’ ” said Butler, who lives in Atlanta and had said he wanted to stay home. “I told him, ‘I was just telling the truth.’ I said that both the Braves and the Dodgers were playing games with me until Boston gave me a true competitive offer. Then the Dodgers came through with a better offer and that was it. “Kasten said, ‘Hey, I just couldn’t afford you.’ And I said, ‘Fine, the Dodgers could afford me, so I am here.’ And that was the end of it.”
Late Thursday, in an otherwise deserted row of batting cages, Mickey Hatcher took an extra hour of batting practice. “I had to get back out there--I found something in my swing today that really worked, that made everything come together, and I want to keep it going,” said Hatcher, who has one hit in 13 at-bats.
Darryl Strawberry worked out Thursday, but the condition of his pulled left hamstring is uncertain. . . . All six of the runs given up by Kevin Gross came in the third inning when he was struggling with his control. Big innings and walks have plagued Gross throughout his career.