As the Yankees/the Kids try to play spoiler down the stretch, it seems like they'll be without one of their core relievers.
Ian Hamilton, a crucial piece of this bullpen for the next several years, hit the injured list for the second time this season on Sunday, battling a groin strain. That's the same injury that placed him on the shelf back in May, when he exited the Yanks' bizarre series in Toronto early (the Domingo Germán Pine Tar Game, otherwise known as the 35th wildest thing Germán was involved in this year).
With just four weeks left in the season, Hamilton could be on the shelf until 2024, with very little reason to rush him through an abbreviated rehab. His journey this season, if over, has been admirable. He began 2023 as a Spring Training non-roster invitee, and ends it as someone who'll be relied upon next year and beyond; he's arbitration eligible in 2026 and controllable through 2028.
That means the Yankees need to take a long, hard look at their usage patters here. Hamilton, after recovering from the initial injury, has been used to cover increasingly large chunks of innings, a la Jhony Brito/Randy Vásquez. Hamilton isn't a recently-converted starter, though, and his recurring hamstring issues would seem to indicate he might not be built for repeated bulk.
Yankees reliever Ian Hamilton (hamstring) hits Injured List
Ironically, the Ham in HamDog now stands for Hamstring, too.
The Yankees were careful with Hamilton from his June 29 return through the All-Star break, never pushing him past 29 pitches (a stint as an opener in St. Louis). When the team returned from that midseason breather, though, they ratcheted up his workload to 35, 38, 26 and 27 pitches in four consecutive appearances before the end of July.
In August, they pushed the envelope even further. Only two of his nine appearances in the month were one inning long. He threw 40+ pitches three times. He threw 3.2 innings against the Red Sox and three shutout frames against the Tigers in his most recent appearance, which might go down as his final one of 2023.
Hamilton might occasionally be able to handle an efficient three-inning chunk, but pushing him into that territory regularly seems to place an expiration date on him. Hopefully, the Yankees learn from this experiment when the curtain rises in 2024 -- with Hamilton looking like one of the very few sure things in the bullpen unit.