HOUSTON — Josh Hamilton has a little more bounce in his step these days, which is understandable.
The Angels left fielder is batting .500 (12 for 24) with two home runs and six runs batted in through seven games, and he drew three walks in a game for the first time since 2009 and only the fourth time in his career Monday in a 9-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park.
The hot start on the heels of a dismal 2013 may have something to do with the bounce that has returned to Hamilton’s stance, a timing mechanism that has helped the normally free-swinging slugger “slow the game down,” see the ball better and lay off the pitches he often got himself out on last season.
“It’s just rhythm, not staying still,” Hamilton said. “Hitting is rhythm and timing. If one is out of sync, you are going to struggle. I completely forgot about it last year. Who knows why you forget about something you have done your whole career. It’s small, but something small can go a long way sometimes.”
Hamilton drew a first-inning walk against Houston starter Jarred Cosart on Monday and scored on Howie Kendrick’s two-out, two-run single. He laid off four pitches, none too far out of the strike zone, for a four-pitch walk in the third.
With runners on second and third in the seventh, Hamilton was intentionally walked. Raul Ibanez followed with a two-run single, and Kendrick added an RBI single.
In the ninth, following Albert Pujols’ leadoff double, Hamilton laid off a 1-and-2 pitch just off the outside corner and stroked an RBI single to left-center.
“Plate discipline is not always going to lead to a walk,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “It leads to getting better pitches to hit. Josh is not going up there with the idea of taking pitches, and that’s what’s exciting. You’re seeing him ready to hit, seeing the ball well, laying off some pitches that are not there.”
Hamilton has drawn six walks in seven games. It took him 26 games to reach six walks last season, when he had a career-worst .250 average with 21 homers and 79 RBIs and was among baseball’s worst hitters through early August, with a .217 average and .271 on-base percentage in his first 106 games.
According to Fangraphs, 41.2% of the pitches Hamilton swung at last season were outside the strike zone. Hamilton reduced that figure to 30.4% in his first six games of 2014.
“You see more pitches if you don’t swing at crap,” Hamilton said. “And if you have guys behind you swinging the bat, you have confidence that if you’re on base [because of a walk] you’re going to score. That’s how you win.”
Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who gave up one run and four hits in eight innings to earn the win Monday, was a teammate of Hamilton’s with the Texas Rangers in 2010, when Hamilton hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs to win the American League most valuable player award.
The Hamilton he sees now reminds him of the Hamilton of 2010.
“This is the real Josh,” Wilson said. “He’s able to make good adjustments at the plate, where if guys aren’t giving him anything good to hit, then he’ll take the base hit up the middle or hit the ball the other way.
“Almost every hitter is the same. If they overswing, they’re going to get themselves out. Josh has so much bat speed, he gets tempted to hit it to the scoreboard sometimes. I think every power hitter goes through that, where they try to do too much.”