Hamilton proving himself to Red Sox as a player, student of the game

June 9th, 2024

CHICAGO -- A typically even-keeled showed a bit of emotion when he reached second base in the ninth inning Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field, emphatically clapping his hands.

The Red Sox were down 4-3 when Hamilton led off the ninth with that double. After stealing third base, he scored on a Reese McGuire sac fly. That sequence was part of a big game for Hamilton, who went 2-for-5 with a homer in a 6-4, 10-inning win that salvaged a series split with the White Sox.

“He's not hitting lazy fly balls,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s hitting hard line drives. And I think he has recognized that at this level, the lazy fly balls, the empty fly balls don't count. He's hitting the ball hard, on a line, putting good at bats [together], hanging against lefties. We’re very proud of him.”

Hamilton was in an unenviable position when the Red Sox brought him up from Triple-A Worcester on April 6. The 26-year-old was called up as the corresponding move to Trevor Story going on the injured list due to a dislocated left shoulder.

Hamilton got off to a bit of an up-and-down start. He homered against the Angels in his first plate appearance of the season. He then booted his first defensive chance, a 112.8 mph grounder by Miguel Sanó.

There was the moment against the Orioles on April 12, in which he missed stepping on second base on a potential 4-6-3 double play late in a 9-4 loss. In his first 11 games, Hamilton hit .182 (6-for-33).

“He came in in a tough spot ... ” Cora said. “It felt like that whole [first] week, everything was fast for him. If you look at the mistakes he made -- not stepping on the bag, missing first base after a ground ball -- I think it was. It’s like stuff that probably he had never done before.”

Hamilton did not play during the Red Sox three-game series against the Pirates from April 19-21. Cora said Hamilton spent “a lot of time” during that series finale talking with Red Sox coach Jason Varitek “about being a big leaguer,” according to Cora.

In his next 28 games, including 21 starts entering Sunday, Hamilton hit .317 with a .372 on-base percentage. More recently, in his last 15 games, he hit .340 with a .392 on-base percentage entering Sunday.

“Jason was talking about Hammy [Saturday], how smart he is,” Cora said. “He asks a lot of questions. And us as a staff, we cannot assume they know everything, right? Player development nowadays is a lot different than when we came up -- the thousand at-bats that you needed, or 750 at-bats.

“The game is played differently now than in the past, in player development, and there's certain things that they haven't done. … I think the education part of it has been amazing, and [Hamilton is] a great student, a great student of the game, and he's a great athlete, too.”

Hamilton made an error in the fourth inning Sunday, one of three in a rough sequence by Boston. With a runner on first base, he fielded a grounder hit by Andrew Vaughn and made an errant flip with his glove to second baseman Enmanuel Valdez, looking for a potential forceout.

Paul DeJong then stepped up and hit a three-run homer. The Red Sox suddenly trailed 3-1, but Hamilton answered back with his solo homer in the top of the fifth. The Statcast-projected 361-foot line drive over the right-field fence cut the White Sox lead to 3-2.

With those two moments and his double to start the ninth, you can understand his extra emotion standing on second base that inning.

“I [messed] up,” Hamilton said. “I tried to make a stupid flip. I should have just gotten an out. Just a lot of emotion. I don’t like letting the team down. I don’t like letting people down.”

Rafael Devers (left knee) and Tyler O’Neill (right knee) did not play on Sunday, and the Red Sox used seven relievers, including closer Kenley Jansen for two innings, in a bullpen game to earn the split. Next up is a big six-game homestand vs. the Phillies and Yankees.

“We know we’ve got a young group, but you gotta give them credit,” Cora said. “They kept playing hard. Sometimes, it's gonna look great. Sometimes, it's not gonna look good, and sometimes, it's gonna look horrible. But they didn't put their heads down. They kept grinding.”