With renowned speed, Hamilton buffing up bunting
A weapon on basepaths, Reds outfielder working to put pressure on pitchers
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton agreed to the interview with MLB.com but then suddenly realized the time. It was 7:53 a.m.
Two minutes before early bunting work.
Hamilton was on time at the hitting cage, and first-base coach Billy Hatcher was there and ready. Hatcher fired baseballs from the pitching machine, and Hamilton squared and bunted each one. A few minutes after he was done, he was available to have a video conversation about the art of bunting and other topics.
Improving his bunting has been one of Hamilton's primary assignments. He arrived at camp a month early to work with Minor League manager Delino DeShields and continues his daily work during Spring Training with Hatcher.
"I'm seeing good results," Hamilton said. "The whole work I've put into it, the time I've put into it to help my game out -- the main thing this spring was to use it a lot more. I've had a few mistakes with it the first few times of trying it, but I feel like I'm getting better each day."
The Reds are expecting the 23-year-old Hamilton to step into the leadoff void created when Shin-Soo Choo departed as a free agent in the offseason. The club knew the speed that allowed him to steal a record 155 bases in the Minors two seasons ago would be an asset, and that he could handle himself well in center field. What wasn't known was if his hitting was Major League ready.
With the switch-hitting Hamilton's speed, the Reds feel he can disrupt teams' defenses sometimes by bunting for hits.
"It's that whole Brett Butler-Mickey Rivers thing," Reds manager Bryan Price said, referring to former speedsters in the Majors. "If you get it down, just keep it away from the catcher and you've got a chance of getting on."
And once Hamilton gets on base, stealing his way into scoring position is more than a good bet.
Over his 19 big league at-bats as a September callup last season, Hamilton had a .368 average and .429 on-base percentage. He had a batting average for balls in play (BABIP) of .467, which included one bunt single. Once he was on base, he successfully stole 13 of 14 bases.
On Wednesday vs. Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, Hamilton push-bunted a ball past the first-base side of the mound. Ryu had no time to cover the bag after the first baseman fielded it, and in an act of futility, the second baseman scrambled for the bag. Hamilton was easily safe.
"If I do my job, I feel like I can get safe every time," Hamilton said. "It's just the point of getting it down and putting it in place. I have to realize I have to use my speed and don't have to rush out of there. The main thing is getting the bunt down first, a perfect bunt."
A perfectly placed Hamilton bunt could be indefensible for opponents, even if they do everything right while adhering to the fundamentals.
"A guy who's going to handle the ball a lot when Billy is up is probably going to be the pitcher. It's a whole different animal," Price said. "We talk a lot that when you field the ball as the pitcher, it's to step and throw. If you keep that mentality with Billy, you're going to be late. It's not a step-and-throw moment with Billy. You have to pick it up and throw it.
"You've seen in the short time that we've played here, you see it. Anybody from the infield that fields the ball or the catcher that's trying to throw to second, you see the difference in what you'd consider their natural game speed, and it changes their ability to execute."