Ian Hamilton eyes Yankees’ bullpen after near end to career


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TAMPA — Some black out in moments like these, but Ian Hamilton remembers exactly 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 he felt on June 4, 2019, when the then-White Sox prospect briefly looked down — “for maybe two seconds” — to pour a handful of sunflower seeds into his hand.

While Hamilton was in the Triple-A Charlotte dugout, a foul ball was blasted into his face and set off a spiderweb of facial fractures.

He felt the roof of his mouth rip open.

He felt several front teeth get dislodged — some hitting the back of his throat.

Before he could process what had happened or the flood of blood exploding from his face, he felt the team’s trainer “punch me in the face with a towel.”

Yankees pitcher Ian Hamilton

Thus began a nightmarish few years from which Hamilton is just beginning to wake up.

Hamilton, one of the Yankees’ spring standouts who has a legitimate shot at a bullpen spot, first required surgery to sew up the roof of his mouth, then had to wait three weeks before doctors could begin follow-up operations.

He said he needed eight surgeries over the next two years to repair a jaw, mouth and teeth that were destroyed.

He missed the rest of the 2019 campaign and somehow reached the majors with the White Sox for four games in 2020, when he tried to pitch through severe discomfort.

“It was terrible,” the 27-year-old righty said recently of the brief 2020 campaign. “Fake teeth were coming out when I was drinking water. I was constantly clenching my jaw so nothing [would fall out].”

He could not take real bites out of food and had to test what he could eat and what he could not.

He “was just mushing everything” and waiting impatiently for permanent teeth to be installed, which did not occur until 2021.

“Last year and this year is the most comfortable I’ve been since that happened,” Hamilton said. “I’m getting more comfortable.”

On the mound, too.

Ian Hamilton
Ian Hamilton
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

In 6 ¹/₃ spring innings, Hamilton has yet to allow a run and has struck out four.

He not only can eat, drink and sleep better, but he believes he is mixing his pitches better this spring than in past years.

He is leaning more on a pitch he calls a changeup and sometimes registers as a cutter or slider, which has induced many awkward swings.

He rarely threw the pitch in his big-league time with the White Sox or in one game with the Twins last year.

“They like [the changeup] here. Everyone else hated it,” said Hamilton, who also throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball. “They wanted me to throw other stuff, but they like it here.”

“They” includes manager Aaron Boone, who said after Hamilton’s spring debut: “Wow. … That pitch, it’s different.”

Through injuries to Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle, there are spots open in the Yankees’ bullpen.

Boone acknowledged Sunday that the 40-man roster status will “always” play a factor in the club’s decision-making, and Hamilton is a non-roster invite to camp.

Hamilton can be optioned to the minors, but he has made a strong case as a reliever pleased with his stuff and his health.

“I kind of feel like the old guy here,” Hamilton said. “But it just kind of feels like: All right, here’s the path that I’m supposed to be on.”

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