Ian Hamilton has his sights set on the Yankees bullpen as his career nears its end
March 21, 2023 | at 12:33
TAMPA – Some people turn off at moments like these, but Ian Hamilton remembers well what he saw.
“I saw the ball right there,” the Yankees bullpen hopeful said. “And then I saw the end of my year.”
And he remembers what it felt like on June 4, 2019, when the White Sox prospect looked down — “for maybe two seconds” — to spill a handful of sunflower seeds into his hand.
While Hamilton was at Triple-A Charlotte, a foul ball was thrown to his face and created a spider web of facial fractures.
He felt the roof of his mouth open.
He felt several of his front teeth come loose, some hitting the back of his throat.
Before he could process what had happened or the flood of blood gushing from his face, the team coach felt like he was “smacking me in the face with a towel.”
Thus began a nightmare year from which Hamilton begins to wake up.
Hamilton, one of the Yankees’ spring standouts, took a legitimate shot in the bullpen, first had to have surgery to sew up the roof of his mouth, then had to wait three weeks before doctors began follow-up operations.
He said he needed eight surgeries over the next two years to repair his destroyed jaw, mouth and teeth.
He missed the rest of the 2019 campaign and somehow ended up four games into 2020 with the White Sox when he tried to sneak in serious discomfort.
“It was awesome,” the 27-year-old righty said recently of the short 2020 campaign. “False teeth were coming out when I was drinking water. I was constantly clenching my jaw, so nothing [would fall out]”.
He couldn’t take real bites of food and had to try what he could and couldn’t eat.
“Everything was tapering off” and she was impatiently waiting for her permanent teeth to come in, which didn’t happen until 2021.
“Last year and this year is the most comfortable I’ve been since that happened,” Hamilton said. “I’m getting more comfortable.”
Even on the mound.
In 6 ¹/₃ innings this spring, Hamilton has yet to allow a run and has struck out four.
Not only is he eating, drinking and sleeping better, but he thinks he’s mixing his pitches better this spring than in years past.
He’s leaning more on a pitch that calls for a changeup and sometimes registers as a cutter or slider, which has led to a lot of awkward swings.
He rarely threw a pitch in the big leagues he played with the White Sox or last year in a game with the Twins.
“They like it [the changeup] here Everyone else hated it,” said Hamilton, who also throws a high-90s fastball. “They wanted me to throw other things, but they like it here.”
“Them” includes manager Aaron Boone, who said after Hamilton’s spring debut: “Wow. … That field, it’s different.”
Due to injuries to Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle, spots are open in the Yankees’ bullpen.
Boone admitted Sunday that the status of the 40-man roster will “always” be a factor in the club’s decision-making, and it’s one that Hamilton hasn’t invited to camp.
Hamilton may be an option in the minors, but he’s made a strong case as a reliever who’s comfortable with his stuff and his health.
“I feel like the old man here,” Hamilton said. “But it’s like, OK, here’s the way I’m supposed to be.”