On June 4, 2019, Ian Hamilton was hit in the face by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout for Charlotte Knights, the Chicago White Sox Triple-A affiliate. Fast forward three years and almost 10 months to April 3, 2023, and the 27-year-old is taking the mound in Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Phillies, taking over for Nestor Cortes after only pitching in five MLB games since the incident.
By the time Hamilton came into the game, the Yankees had established a sizeable lead, scoring two runs in the first, one in the third, and five in the fifth. With that advantage in hand, the team’s most recent bullpen addition made himself right at home. He pitched 1.2 innings, allowing only three hits (three singles), no runs, and no walks with two strikeouts.
The most intriguing part of his outing, though, was the way his pitches performed. Hamilton only throws two pitches—a four-seam fastball and a pitch dubbed the “slambio” (a mix between a slider and changeup, or in Spanish, cambio)—but they worked almost to perfection in his first outing in pinstripes.
Below are the locations for his pitches courtesy of Baseball Savant.
It’s not hard to see that the game plan was to throw his fastball towards the upper right-hand portion of the strike zone while honing in on the bottom right area and even below the zone for the slambio pitch. It might seem like a pretty simple approach, but considering the kind of variation the slambio provides Hamilton, there’s no reason to go overboard. Hamilton threw his fastball 19 times while going to his offspeed 17 times.
Hamilton’s performance just gets better the more you look at the numbers. he generated an eye-popping nine swings and misses against Phillies hitters—two fewer than Cortes and five more than the next closest hurler—with all nine of them coming off the slambio. Even though the Phillies did put together a few hits off him, none were barrels. Swings and misses and weak contact; that’s a recipe for success out of the Yankee bullpen.
The at-bat that I’d like to focus on with Hamilton is his matchup against last year’s National League home run champion, Kyle Schwarber. For obvious reasons, any Schwarber plate appearance can be cause for anxiety. He didn’t hit 46 homers last season for no reason.
However, that didn’t stop Hamilton from following his plan and executing it. All five pitches thrown to the lefty power hitter were slambios, and three of them produced swinging strikes for the final out of Hamilton’s first appearance on the mound in The Bronx.
The Yankees have had to deal with injuries in every area of the pitching staff. Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle getting placed on the shelf allowed Hamilton to come up and shine out of the bullpen. The good news is that there’s very little risk in giving the right-hander more appearances out of the bullpen. There’s only one outing in the books as of now, and Hamilton will surely face some tough outings if gets more run in the coming weeks. But if he can go through eight surgeries and make it to this point, the confidence that he can handle more innings against superstars like Schwarber shouldn’t dissipate.
It feels as if Aaron Boone is almost infatuated with the slambio pitch, as he’s sent some high praise Hamilton’s way and even enjoyed giving the pitch its nickname. And if Hamilton can pitch the way he did against a struggling but talented Phillies lineup, there’s no reason he can’t make a case to stick around further into the season.