STEPHEN HAWKINS,AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Josh Hamilton is trying to stop the dips — in his batting average and the chewing tobacco the Texas Rangers slugger has long used during games.
Hamilton has been in an extended hitting slump, with his average dropping from a majors-best .404 in mid-May to .319, but is only a couple of days into trying to quit the chewing tobacco for good.
“It was time to do it,” Hamilton said. “It’s a habit and I don’t really enjoy it like I used to.”
Hamilton, who has been chewing tobacco for about 10 years, said he’s now using toothpicks treated with tea tree oil, gum or sunflower seeds.
While talking to reporters Monday, Hamilton was chomping on one of the toothpicks that were recommended to him by teammate Brandon Snyder, who is also trying to cut back on the chew.
After reaching on a first-inning single Sunday night, Colorado first baseman Todd Helton noticed the tiny stick protruding from Hamilton’s mouth.
“He goes ‘Tell me you didn’t just hit with a toothpick in your mouth,’” Hamilton said. “I was like ‘I’m trying to quit dipping.’ He was ‘OK, that’s a good excuse.’”
When Hamilton made a running catch on the warning track in the ninth inning of that game, he said he had gum instead of a toothpick in his mouth.
Hamilton was 1 for 12 with eight strikeouts in the three-game weekend series against the Rockies. The AL player of the month in both April and May was hitting only .220 his last 31 games before Monday night’s game against Detroit. He still led the majors with 64 RBIs despite only one homer in 20 games.
“I don’t worry about it,” he said. “If I continue to stay healthy, I’m going to have a hotter time again. … But it kind of comes up and down, it goes up and down, but you try to limit the down and move forward from there.”
The slugger said he is feeling better and that he goes through phases of “being a little jumpy, trying to do too much, all the normal things that I battle.”
Hamilton said he just has to get back in a good routine and trying not to over-think things.
He has been back only a week since missing three games with an intestinal virus that put him in the hospital for one night. Hamilton said he’s still about 10 pounds lighter than he was before the illness but feels good strength-wise.
Manager Ron Washington keeps mentioning patience when talking about Hamilton’s struggles. He wants Hamilton to have better pitch recognition and quit swinging at pitches way out of the strike zone.
“He hasn’t been the Hamilton that everyone has seen and grown to love every day. … He’s due to rebound,” Washington said. “He’ll come back. He’s been getting us some hits here and there in some crucial situations. We’ll take that, until he gets it back together.”
The hitting slump hasn’t affected Hamilton’s popularity with fans. He is going to be elected to start his fifth consecutive All-Star game, having already received more than 7.3 million votes, almost 3 million more than any other player at any position.
“It’s an honor to get obviously one vote,” he said. “But to have people that want to watch you play … is a good feeling.”
Snyder said the toothpicks he recommended to Hamilton have the natural oil that helps kill bacteria in the mouth along with a mint-like menthol taste.
“It’s for your oral fixation, the habit of having something in your mouth,” Snyder said.
Hamilton removes the sharpened end before putting the toothpicks in his mouth. But having those, the gum or seeds give him something to chew on instead of tobacco.
“When I’m in the field, that’s the hardest thing. I chew gum or something,” said Hamilton, who hopes he can quit tobacco for good this time. “I’ve done it for three or four months at a time. I was mostly just giving my mouth a break.”
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