ARLINGTON -- Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton, going into Sunday's game, was hitting .310 with a .562 slugging percentage when batting in the No. 3 spot in the order. As a cleanup hitter, those numbers dropped to .279 with a .510 slugging percentage. The difference? "Milton Bradley," manager Ron Washington said.
When Bradley is in the lineup, he bats cleanup and Hamilton bats third. When Bradley is out, Washington drops Hamilton into the cleanup spot. When that happens, Washington said, pitchers go after Hamilton differently and the numbers show the result. Part of Hamilton's success this season as an American League MVP candidate can be attributed to the kind of year Bradley has had hitting behind him. The problem is keeping Bradley in the lineup. Various injuries have kept him from starting in 35 of the Rangers 131 games. "When Milton is not in the lineup, Ham's going to get a lot of changeups and breaking balls," Washington said. "When Milton's in there, pitchers are still flipping the curveball up there, but he's still getting a lot of fastballs to hit. They don't run away from him when Milton is in there." The pitcher's aggressiveness toward Hamilton when he has Bradley behind him plays to his strength. Hamilton remains an aggressive hitter who goes up to the plate ready to swing the bat. That remains his basic philosophy, and it's not too different from shortstop Michael Young. "If it's a strike or if it's close enough, I'm swinging," Hamilton said. "I've always felt like this: when I go to the plate, I've got three strikes to swing at. If I swing at three strikes, I've got three chances to hit the ball. But if I take two pitches, I've got just one chance to hit it." Hamilton, going into Sunday's game, had swung at the first pitch in 43.2 percent of his plate appearances, the sixth highest rate in the league. He had also taken just 45.2 percent of the pitches thrown to him, the seventh lowest in the league. By comparison, Joe Mauer went into Sunday's game leading the American League in hitting and had taken 64.2 percent of pitches thrown to him, the highest in the league. Mauer's on-base percentage is 48 points higher than Hamilton. But Hamilton had driven in 53 more runs in 79 more plate appearances. Patience works for Mauer. Aggressiveness works for Hamilton. He's hitting .429 when he puts the first pitch in play, and his 39 hits on the first pitch are the most in the American League. He has also hit 11 of his 29 home runs on the first pitch. "Some hitters look for certain pitches," Hamilton said. "To me, it doesn't matter what the pitch is as long as it's close enough to get the bat on it. I'll always be a free swinger unless I'm told to take." Hamilton still gets some walks, but a higher percentage come when he's batting cleanup. His on-base percentage as a cleanup hitter is .360 as opposed to .370 as a No. 3 hitter. But he's also walked just once for every 10.92 plate appearances. That's not very often for hitter who was walked intentionally with the bases loaded earlier in the homestand. There are 33 hitters in the American League with a better rate. Bradley gets a walk every 5.82 plate appearances, or almost twice as much as Hamilton. The two have talked about it. "I'm still learning a lot, but I've always been that way," Hamilton said. "I'm very aggressive at the plate. Everybody is different. You know as a hitter what pitches you can hit well. Milton likes to work deep in the count and take pitches. He gets on me: 'How do you hit pitches that aren't strikes?' But that's the way I came up playing baseball." Washington likes Hamilton's aggressiveness but doesn't like him chasing bad pitches out of the strike zone or giving away at-bats. "When Milton's not in the lineup, he chases," Washington said. "When Milton's in the lineup, he doesn't chase. He can still be a 100 walk guy and still hit his bombs and drive in his runs. But he still gives away a lot of at-bats. [Getting past] that comes with maturity."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.