Angels' Josh Hamilton tosses his bat after striking out against the… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
After watching Josh Hamilton strike out five times in eight at-bats in the first two games against Baltimore, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia had seen enough of his struggling outfielder to know that he needed something more than just a pep talk. So rather than risk another poor performance in front of a national TV audience, Scioscia held Hamilton out of the starting lineup Saturday.
"It's 100% a mental day," Scioscia said of Hamilton, who had more than twice as many strikeouts (13) as hits (6) in his last nine games. "There's no doubt that Josh is trying to find a rhythm in the batter's box. Hopefully a day off to clear some cobwebs out … will push him a little bit forward."
Hamilton, who flied out in a pinch-hitting appearance Saturday, has always been an aggressive hitter, but this year his O-Swing percentage, the percentage of times a batter swings at a pitch outside the strike zone, is the highest in the American League. As a result, pitchers aren't coming near the strike zone against Hamilton, who is hitting .207 with just five extra-base hits and a team-high 37 strikeouts, is chasing the ball and getting himself out.
"When Josh is right he's going to handle a lot of the pitches that are giving him trouble," Scioscia said. "He just needs to exhale a little bit and maybe take that half-step backwards to get to his goal of swinging the bat the way he can.
"Right now there's a confidence factor. He's just not where he needs to be in the batter's box. That's the bottom line."
Ryan Madson climbed back on a mound for the first time in two weeks, throwing a lengthy bullpen session Saturday morning. But the real test will come Sunday when the Angels see how Madson bounces back.
"There's so much that goes into throwing a bullpen as far as not only how you feel throwing in the 'pen, [but] how you're rebounding," Scioscia said.
Madson, who underwent Tommy John surgery 13 months ago, hasn't pitched in a game since September 2011. And his comeback has already stalled a couple of times this spring, most recently when he was shut down after throwing a simulated game last month.
Meanwhile, staff ace Jered Weaver is making progress in his return from a fractured left elbow. Weaver, out since April 8, is playing catch at more than 120 feet and could be throwing off a mound by the middle of next week.
A heads-up play by Hank Conger briefly turned into a heads-down play in the eighth inning Saturday. With Manny Machado playing deep and off the line at third base, the slow-footed Conger smartly bunted the ball that way. But as he was racing toward first, Conger toppled over, nearly giving Machado a chance to throw him out.
"As soon as I fell, I'm like, 'Man, I'm probably going to get thrown out,'" Conger said. "As I kind of barrel-rolled, I noticed that he didn't throw it. So I just tried to run hard through the bag.
"I can save face and at least say I got on base."
He could also say his heads-up play started the rally that sent the game into extra innings.
Ernesto Frieri struck out the side in the ninth inning, throwing 15 pitches, 11 for strikes. ... Right-hander Mark Lowe, who was eligible to come off the disabled list this weekend, is instead headed to Lake Elsinore for another minor league rehab game with Inland Empire on Sunday. He is expected to return to the Angels bullpen Tuesday in Houston.