CINCINNATI — There is no doubt to anybody who watches Billy Hamilton play center field every day that he covers more ground than a camel in the Sahara Desert and at a much faster clip.
There is also no doubt to anybody who watches Hamilton every day that his bunting is a work in progress, with a lot of work needed. Hopefully for the Cincinnati Reds itj won’t take as long as the highway department remodeling a cloverleaf.
BOTH FACTS WERE on display Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the eighth inning of a game the Reds led, 3-2, Jason Heyward smashed one toward the center field wall, a triple in its infancy. Hamilton at first misjudged it. Then, utilizing his cheetah speed he outran the ball and caught in wide receiver style over his shoulder as he crashed to the ground. Just another stupendous catch.
EARLIER IN THE GAME, though, with the same 3-2 score, Hamilton was asked to put down a sacrifice bunt. His bunt nearly brought rain as the ball climbed about 100 feet straight up and catcher Yadier Molina caught it.
“I see Billy play center field every day and that’s where we have that benefit,” said manager Bryan Price. “We see all his great plays, the distances he covers in the outfield, his throwing arm, how quickly he gets to a base hit. So you are tainted as a manager when you see him. You get spoiled by it because you see the excellence every day.
“I have a hard time believing that anybody covers more ground and saves more from a defensive perspective,” Price added. “From what I evaluate with my own eyes he is as good as there is at covering center field.
“He does a lot things with speed, but speed alone isn’t everything,” said Price. “If he was taking bad routes, if he wasn’t quick to get up and recover and if he didn’t have the arm speed he wouldn’t be the type of center fielder we’re talking about.”
AND THE BUNTING?
“He has had some really good bunts for base hits lately,” said Price. “But, yeah, it is a big part of his game and needs to be refined. He needs to be able to stay in position in the box when he bunts. That makes a big difference because it enables him to identify a good pitch to bunt.”
Too often, Hamilton is on the run toward first base before attempting to put the bat on the ball and either misses or bunts a bad pitch and fouls it, as he did Tuesday night.
“HE WANTS TO GET going, the incentive of wanting to do both — get the bunt down to move the runner and beat it out for a hit. In that situation, though, he might be better off trying to bunt for a hit because on some of his best bunts he knows when to pull back,” said Price. “It is a work in progress. It is like a guy with power who tries to access it prematurely. Just be patient. He needs to be patient, not try to do too much. He has to realize if he gets it down, with his speed, he has a chance to beat it out.”
THERE WAS A stranger on the field before Wednesday’s game, a guy wearing Reds uniform No. 45 and throwing left handed.
It was Sean Marshall, whose shoulder problems have kept him off the field for most of the last two years. And when he underwent shoulder surgery early this season it was thought he was done for the season.
BUT THERE HE WAS Wednesday, throwing off the mound for the first time this season, 22 fastballs.
“The fact that he is throwing off the mound again is like a miracle,” said Price. “We thought the surgery he had was going to end his season and make it challenging for him to resume throwing by spring training.
“Instead, they found out there wasn’t as much damage in his shoulder and it allowed him to come back and do a throwing program.”
WHEN THE REDS leave Friday for a 10-day trip to the west coast, Marshall will accompany the team and throw off the mound every third day and Price said, “If all goes well, he’ll be back pitching for us before the season is over.”
Said Price, “He threw the ball really well today, looked like a normal guy with no inhibitions or limitations in his arm action. He hasn’t had any post-operative setbacks, so it’s all good. He has to build up arm strength and make sure there are no setbacks. Then we’ll see.”
MARSHALL WAS ALL smiles as he sat in the dugout after his session, anxious to get back to competition.
“It went good,” said Marshall. “It was great to get my feet on the mound, my cleats in the dirt. Just getting my feet wet and it was a successful bullpen.”
After so many trials and errors and bumps on the mound — only 31 appearances over the last three seasons, the 6-foot-7 left handed set-up guy who appeared in 73 games in 2012, didn’t know what to expect Wednesday.
“I’ve been doing great during long toss and throwing on flat ground, but getting on that slanted surface on the mound I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the first throw to the last throw it felt good. I’m very happy to b back with my feet on the mound.
“It has been a long while since I had a good feeling on the mound,” he said. “I’ve pitched with a pretty banged up arm, especially at the beginning of last year. I threw back-to-back games against the Dodgers, pre-surgery, and that was the last time I felt good. I threw a couple of pitches to Dee Gordon and he popped up to left field but I knew right then that might be the last time I threw any pitches feeling comfortable.”
It was June 9 an June 10 in Cincinnati and Marshall pitched one inning in each game and did not give up a run, but his arm did give up.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Manager Bryan Price normally holds his pre-game media meeting in his office but on Wednesday, after his team beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the third straight time, he held it in the dugout. It was mentioned that he must not be superstitious and Price said, “No, I’m not that guy. But I’m not going to tell you what underwear I’m wearing.”