GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Jason Hammel just faced a lineup that featured a National League MVP and pieces to a team that won 90 games last season.
The Cubs pitcher stood in the middle of Goodyear Ballpark’s visiting clubhouse on Saturday afternoon. As Hammel looked back on his three scoreless innings in a 9-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds, he focused more on the guy with 19 at-bats on his big-league resume instead of Joey Votto.
“Saw Billy Hamilton for the first time,” Hammel said. “Walked him. Did him a favor right away. I’m going to try not to do that during the season.”
The Reds let Shin-Soo Choo walk and sign a seven-year, $130 million megadeal with the Texas Rangers, allowing Hamilton to take over in center field and cause havoc at the top of the order.
Hamilton stole 13 bases in 13 games as a September call-up last season. He notched 155 stolen bases in 132 minor-league games in 2012. He drew a four-pitch walk in Saturday’s first inning and wound up on third base moments later, giving him six stolen bases in the Cactus League.
“He was fast,” Hammel said. “I felt like I was pretty quick. I was slide-stepping him at first and he didn’t really go. (Catcher Welington Castillo) bobbled the ball on the potential strike-him-out, throw-him-out. I don’t know what kind of jump he had there.
“But I felt like we held him pretty good there. He stole third base off me. That was pretty simple for him. So, obviously, he’s going to be a threat.”
In his Cactus League debut, Hammel worked around two hits and three walks, getting four strikeouts and the win. This year’s $6 million sign-and-flip guy had only pitched in a B game after last weekend’s storm reshuffled the rotation.
“To be honest, I was battling a little bit of butterflies,” Hammel said. “I had some nervous anxiety there that was exciting, because that’s the first time you get out there onto a mound in front of a crowd. It’s fun. I was able to battle through it.”
Cubs pitchers will have this in their heads. Hamilton is only 23 years old and the Cubs and Reds will play each other 19 times this season. Cubs fans will get tired of watching Hamilton run all over their team.