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March 30, 2014

Top of Reds order could be scary in 2014

Former Bat Hamilton gives Cincinnati lethal speed in leadoff spot

LOUISVILLE — Billy Hamilton spent much of last season in Louisville auditioning to become the Cincinnati Reds leadoff hitter and centerfielder, and on Saturday, he was back on the stage where he played for most of 2013.

In what was an otherwise unceremonious 0-for-1 day at the plate for Hamilton — the 23-year-old narrowly missed beating out a routine grounder to open Reds exhibition game against the Louisville Bats.

Reds first-year manager Bryan Price said Hamilton’s speed will be needed to set the table for the rest of Cincinnati’s lineup this season.

“To have someone who can influence a game with the speed element like Billy is terrific,” Price said during the exhibition game at Slugger Field.

The Triple-A affiliate Bats tied their Major League franchise 1-1 behind a strong pitching performance by Mike Leake, who pitched for the Louisville side. Homer Bailey got the start for the Reds, as the game was shortened to six innings due to weather.

Hamilton batted in front of Cincinnati second basemen Brandon Phillips against the Bats, as Price favored placing the pair at the top of the lineup during spring training. From the leadoff spot to cleanup hitter, Phillips was slotted in multiple positions of the lineup by former Reds manager Dusty Baker.

Though it would be higher in the batting order than Phillips has typically been placed in recent years, the Reds second basemen could still be in a position to drive in runs with Hamilton at the top spot. Hamilton has blazing speed and a constant threat to swipe a base, but the emphasis has been on improving his hitting during spring training so he can become the table setter Price envisions.  

“He did the things we really asked him to do, which is to grind out his two-strike at-bats and find ways to fight through pitches to get something he can hit, put more balls on the ground and fewer in the air, and to work on his bunting and fielding, and he was terrific” Price said of Hamilton’s spring training performance.

“What we’re asking him to do is focus on the parts of his game that need improvement.”

Hamilton hit .327 in the Cactus League with a homer and eight runs batted in.

He takes over center field for Shin-Soo Choo, who signed with the Texas Rangers. Choo had a solid year for a Reds team that struggled at times to score runs, batting .285 and belting 21 home runs from the leadoff spot in 2013.

He isn’t expected to match Choo’s power numbers at the plate, but the six-foot tall and 160-pound, Hamilton stole 75 bases at Louisville last year. He added 13 more stolen bases during a late season call-up to the Reds in 2013, as Hamilton put pressure on pitching staffs and catchers mainly as a pinch runner for Cincinnati.

This year, Hamilton will be expected to reach base on his own beginning with today’s opening game against the St. Louis Cardinals.


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