CINCINNATI — There is no doubt the pressure is off Billy Hamilton, that he has been more productive batting ninth behind the pitcher than he was under the stark and harsh lights of batting leadoff.
And it hasn’t slowed his base thievery. He leads the majors with 31 steals and has been arrested only five times.
The 24-year-old converted shortstop/center fielder and converted right handed batter to switch-hitter entered Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins with hits in five of his last six games.
EXPECTING A YOUNGH player to learn a new position, learn a new side of the batter’s box and bat leadoff is a bit much and manager Bryan Price recognized that and moved him from top to bottom.
“The production we’re getting from Billy, well, his production is much better in the nine-hole,” said Price. “With Billy hitting behind the pitcher we’re able to do more — hit-and-run and squeeze. We can do some more with our offense instead of going station-to-statiion, which I thought we were at times early in the year.
“With Billy hitting ninth it is nice to not have to bunt the pitcher all the time to sacrifice a guy over,” Price added. “And, yeah, I do think it has taken the pressure off Billy.
“When you bat leadoff you have to understand the responsibility of getting on base,” Price added. “He needed to get on base, be a guy with a high on-base average. Hitting ninth allows him to be, well, like a second leadoff guy. He has been a guy who, when our seven-hole hitter gets on base and the pitcher bunts him over, Billy has been a fairly productive run-producer, especially with two outs.”
DEVIN MESORACO (who undergoes surgery Monday to repair his hip impingement) and Zack Cozart are gone for the season, but with Marlon Byrd back, the lineup looks more closely to what Price wanted when the season began. Brayan Pena at catcher is close to an every day player and Eugenio Suarez at shortstop is handy with the glove, although short of Cozart with the bat.
“It’s a nice lineup right now. We have been getting so much production from Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce is swinging the bat much better,” said Price. “Brayan Pena has had a real nice season and now we have Marlon Byrd back.”
WITH THE RESURGENCE of J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra, the bullpen has righted itself recently. Price acknowledges what they have done but says the additio of Ryan Matthues is a major upgrade. Since picking him up off the waivers wire, Mattheus has made 15 appearances over 15 innings and has a 1.62 earned run average.
“Who could imagine that on a waiver claim we could get a performer of Ryan Mattheus’ ability?” said Price. “I mean, he is 90 to 93 with a good slider and a good split. He has a predigree coming from a regular contender like Washington. He was primary pitcher in the Nationals mix and I couldn’t be happier with that acquisition. He is a competitor and a professionals. He does everything we need him to do.”
PRICE HAD AN interesting comparision when he asked how a pitcher like Pedro Villarreal handles getting called up and shipped down and called back up and shipped back down and recalled again.
“He is as good at handling it as anybody I’ve been around because he gets it,” said Price. “It is very easy to make it a personal thing. If you look at most guys, pitchers and position players, they’ve had that back-and-forth history before solidifying themselves as major leaguers.”
Price involved the name of former Reds manager Lou Piniella, for whom Price worked as a pitching coach in Seaattle.
“I’d sit in with Lou when we were sending down a pitcher,” said Price. “Lou said, ‘Son, just go look at my stats, how many times I bounced up and down before I finally stayed up and then won Rookie of the Year.’
“Lou was that guy and it is a natural progression to the big leagues,” Price added. “A guy like Mike Trout and even A-Rod were up-and-down guys, back-and-forth. A lot of guys did it and became All-Stars and Hall of Fame players. It is the nature of the beast and Villarreal gets that.”
THE SUBJECT in the press box was about the longest home run ever hit in Great American Ball Park, a 535-foot shot by Adam Dunn of LA’s Jose Lima That departed the stadium like a Boeing 777 and landed on the banks of the Ohio River.
Pittburgh scout Carl Lowenstine, a close friend to Hamilton’s Jim Tracy, who managed the Dodgers at the time, said Tracy went to the mound after Dunn’s nuclear blast.
“I went to the mound and called catcher Paul LoDuca out there,” said Tracy. “I wanted to see if Lo Duca had powder burns on his face.”