Billy Hamilton’s three-hit game on Saturday was important on several levels for Royals

Royals manager Ned Yost talks about series-clinching win over White Sox

Royals manager Ned Yost answers questions post-game following an 8-6 win over the Chicago White Sox that included Ian Kennedy's first career save as well as a three-hit game by center fielder Billy Hamilton at Kauffman Stadium on March 30, 2019.
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Royals manager Ned Yost answers questions post-game following an 8-6 win over the Chicago White Sox that included Ian Kennedy's first career save as well as a three-hit game by center fielder Billy Hamilton at Kauffman Stadium on March 30, 2019.

Billy Hamilton, possibly the fastest man in baseball, needed to slow things down a bit after his first regular-season game as a member of the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

After 10 years with the Cincinnati Reds, the organization that drafted him, Hamilton embraced the new beginning afforded to him by switching teams and leagues this offseason. He’d spent spring training focusing on becoming a complete hitter instead of a baseball novelty act based on speed alone.

But his desire to make a strong first impression on his new fan base combined with a hit-less debut might’ve threatened to chip away at the confidence he’d spent all spring training building up with the help of KC hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and quality control coach Pedro Grifol.

Hamilton said he was “amped up” for the season opener, his first time playing in front of the home crowd and he let the emotions take over and tried “to do too much.”

“Me and Pedro sat down right after the game, to be honest with you, on opening day,” Hamilton said. “And he goes, ‘You gotta get back to the approach we had during spring training. I’m not going to let it go no longer. It’s something that we worked on, and there’s no use in us spending that whole month of spring training working on something if you’re not going to take it into the season.’”

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Those words hit home with Hamilton, who said he went home and thought about what Grifol had said. He watched video from the first game and saw himself trying to pull the ball, getting out in front and not sticking to the same approach he had in Arizona.

A career .245 hitter in the majors, Hamilton came away from spring training in Arizona — where he batted .294 with a .345 on-base percentage and seven doubles in 19 games — feeling like he’d made real strides at the plate.

An 0-for-4 in the season opener made him start to question whether he’d actually made significant progress. He’d admitted during spring training that fear of failure handcuffed him when he stepped into a batter’s box. Adjustments, tweaks, mechanical changes, approaches he’d spent hours working on in the past had all disappeared when doubt crept into his mind.

So his confidence at the plate is no small matter. In some ways he’s still teetering between being the new hitter he wants to become and the Royals think he can grow into and reverting to the hitter who was afraid to carry success in the batting cage into the game.

“(It was important) for me to just to not get down on myself and be like all right, the stuff I worked on in spring training is not working and stop doing it,” Hamilton said. “No, it was more like that day is over with, let me come back in here Saturday and let me get back to what I was doing, keep the same confidence and keep what I was working on and trust it.”

Hamilton responded with three hits on Saturday, his first three-hit game since Aug. 29, 2018. He led off the third and the fourth with singles and scored in the third. He also scored again as part of a four-run sixth inning.

Hamilton’s first hit of the season led to the first run of Saturday’s game in the third inning. Hamilton singled, brazenly tagged and advanced to second on a routine fly ball to right field, and he scored on Adalberto Mondesi’s RBI double off the wall in right-center.

“Three big hits today,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Hamilton following Saturday’s game. “You know, he felt coming out of spring training as confident as he could be and didn’t get any hits opening day. He was like, ‘Man, all the work that I put forth.’ Terry and Pedro were like, ‘Dude, look you’re in a really, really good spot. Just stay right there.’”

Because of batting in the ninth spot in the order and his incredible speed and base-stealing ability — he has the most stolen bases in the majors since his debut (277) — Hamilton becomes almost another leadoff hitter.

Through two games, the Royals’ first four hitters — Whit Merrifield, Mondesi, Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler — were batting a combined .370 with 10 RBI, 10 runs scored, 10 hits and 6 extra base hits.

“For me to be in front of those guys, we can do things,” Hamilton said. “We can do hit-and-runs without even Ned giving us the sign. (Merrifield) can see if I get bad jump and hit the ball in the whole, or if he sees I get a good jump, he can take it. These guys are smart. It’s fun playing with these guys and being around them just to learn what they can do.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.