SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When your art is making opponents look silly, the instances the instigator becomes the victim tend to stick out.
Billy Hamilton has a Ph.D in torture. He finds a way to first base, forces constant throw-overs, gets in pitchers’ heads. The conversation with the first baseman is usually, “When are you going?” Hamilton said. “Which pitch are you going to go on?”
He then typically swipes second and perhaps third. Such is the power and appeal of track-star legs that make him a nightmare when he reaches first. Or rather, if he reaches first.
His struggle to get on base — his OBP fell to .289 last season, which is why he was available to the Giants this offseason — is an issue. When asked if he had a favorite moment against a Giants pitcher, Hamilton picked a memorably awful moment instead against Jeff Samardzija, then with the Cubs.
It was 2014, his first full season in the majors, a 3-2 count and Hamilton was “in a battle,” in which he completely guessed wrong.
“I might have had the worst swing in baseball,” he said with a laugh Monday before the Giants’ first full-squad workout.
Samardzija threw heat over the plate and Hamilton “just chucked the bat. But the ball was already in the mitt. I didn’t want to go down as a backwards K, so I just threw the bat. It was funny. They had it on ESPN for the next three or four days.”
There are happier moments, Hamilton fondly recalling scoring from first on a botched pickoff against Philadelphia years ago, but there is an underlying reality that pitchers torment him, too.
Hamilton burst onto the Cincinnati scene in 2013, a minor sensation because of his blink-and-you-miss-him speed. He has never had pop — his career high is six home runs — and has not hit consistently enough to justify being an everyday player, even with his remarkable defense.
He mentioned early work with hitting coach Justin Viele, and Hamilton will become another project for a team filled with them.
“I can’t change it right now,” Hamilton said of his on-base percentage. “All I can do is get better.”
He didn’t want to attach a specific goal to the number — his throwback aim is to score 100 runs — but if one number rises, so will the other.
The Giants will be juggling interesting, if not established, outfielders, a category the 29-year-old from Mississippi very much fits in. Gabe Kapler has suggested the team will have to get creative to find ways to deploy Hamilton, even suggesting he could pinch-run early then stay in the game the rest of the way.
Of course, that suggests the Giants would find a way to carry him on the 26-man roster, which is also not guaranteed. He’ll have to prove he can torture pitchers more often than the other way around.