Angels’ Josh Hamilton is navigating his way through another bad back.

Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton is in the Angels lineup. That could change soon.

It changed Tuesday and Thursday, when Hamilton was originally penciled into the lineup then scratched due to back spasms shortly before game time. At least Thursday, he was able to go into the game in right field in the seventh inning.

“They asked me,” Hamilton recalled. “I was in here (the clubhouse) getting treatment. About the sixth inning I went into the cage, took some swings and got ready to play in the game.”

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Daily Distractions: Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols juxtaposed; rekindling Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols’ running can be painful to watch; lately his batting average has been suffering too. (Associated Press photo)

A visiting beat writer at Sunday’s game watched one of Albert Pujols‘ three strikeouts and marveled at what he saw. The swing-and-miss at strike three, down and away, simply wasn’t the same Pujols. In fact, it looked a little like Josh Hamilton did earlier this month.

Hamilton seems to be coming around, as I wrote in my game story yesterday. Pujols, who is batting .198 since April 21, does not.

Writes Joe Posnanski: “After years of being the best player in baseball, Pujols is now sort of beside the point.”

Mike Scioscia said something interesting after the game. I asked him if the Angels’ patience at the plate (they walked twice with the bases loaded and Hamilton averaged five pitches per at-bat) was evidence of a team that isn’t pressing as much, something Scioscia reprimanded his team for a couple nights earlier. His answer:

“I think we’re seeing some guys maybe use the whole field. As you try to get simpler, get more comfortable in the game, the things you talk about show up — you see the guys get in deeper counts, get a pitch, take a walk, hit the ball the other way, get better pitches to hit. Those things start to go in a positive direction. Hopefully he’ll keep taking strides toward it.”

Wait, who’s “he”?

I didn’t ask that because I didn’t catch Scioscia’s choice of pronouns until I listened to my tape after the game. But it isn’t hard to figure out — it’s Hamilton, who was hitting line drives to the opposite field, taking a walk, and going deeper into counts as if he was Mike Trout. Pujols was not.

For Pujols’ legacy, sure, we’re witnessing a turning point. As a key to the Angels’ success, it remains to be seen how long they can survive Pujols’ slump.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:

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Daily Distractions: How bad is the Angels’ pitching?

Jerome Williams

Spot starter Jerome Williams allowed two home runs in the Angels’ 8-4 loss Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

“Terrible” and “absolutely awful” are two ways to describe the Angels’ pitching staff. And those were suggested by their manager yesterday.

I could have cited a few more stats about the Angels’ staff in my game story from yesterday’s 8-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles and where they rank among the 30 teams, namely:

• Opponents’ on-base percentage .344 (29th)
• Opponents’ slugging percentage: .427 (25th)
• Opponents’ OPS: .770 (28th)
• Blown saves: 5 (t-23rd)
• Save percentage: 44.4 (t-29th)
• HR allowed: 39 (t-25th)
• Wild pitches: 17 (27th)
• WHIP: 1.48 (29th)
• Strikeouts per nine innings: 6.80 (24th)
• Strikeout-to-walk ratio: 1.70 (28th)

The Angels are among the worst in the league in nearly every pitching category. It’s almost hard to be this bad. And this is *after* two stellar complete-game efforts by Jason Vargas last week.

That’s why even Mike Scioscia isn’t pulling punches. It’s hard to be optimistic.

Nowhere to go but up, right?

Onto the bullet points:
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Has moving Mike Trout to second in the batting order had the desired result?

Sunday marked Mike Trout‘s 23rd game as the Angels’ number-two hitter. Say what you want about the Angels’ record in the meantime — they’re 9-13 with him batting second compared to 2-6 when he led off — but the move seems to have helped the second-year outfielder.

Trout has 20 RBIs in 22 games since the switch. His batting average is down (.267) but his on-base percentage (.340) and slugging percentage (.511) are both up a tick.

The move hasn’t always connected Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, which was one of manager Mike Scioscia‘s goals when he made the move seven games into the season. Hamilton was demoted to fifth in the batting order prior to Sunday, when Pujols got the day off and Hamilton batted third.

But Mark Trumbo has stepped into the cleanup hole and given the Angels the dangerous 2-3-4 combo they were looking for. Trumbo has home runs in five of his last six games and is batting .295/.363/.557.

Here’s what Mike Scioscia had to say when asked if moving Trout to the number-two hole has had its desired effect:

“Primarily, what Mike really needs to be in a position to drive in runs,” Scioscia said. “He’s a guy you want guys on base with. He can draw a walk with guys on base to really set the table for the middle of the lineup. Connecting him, Josh and Albert is one thing we talked about. There’s no doubt he’s getting more opportunities with runners in scoring position.

“I think it’s accomplished some things. It maybe got Mike back to where he needed to be to be more productive driving in some runs. Right now Josh isn’t connected with them the way we envisioned. Mark is. Mark’s a guy that, I think there’s no doubt Mark Trumbo’s gotten more out of being connected with Mike and Albert than anywhere else he’s hit in the lineup. I think it’s going to be tough to evaluate all the components until Albert and Josh hit stride.”

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