CINCINNATI — Bryan Price realized his outside-the-box batting order would not only draw pointed questions from the media, but that he needed to do some explaining to the players involved before the lineup was posted.
It is called communication and consideration and Price is adept at using both as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. And never mind that it might hurt to borrow something from Tony LaRussa, the much-despited (in Cincinnati) former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Price’s batting order/lineup was one to drop jaws and evoke double takes.
LaRussa was the first to bat the pitcher eighth instead of ninth, a manuever since adopted by other managers, including Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Price’s Opening Day batting order Friday against the Washington Nationals featured Jesse Winker leading off and playing left field, Billy Hamilton batting ninth (behind pitcher Homer Bailey) and playing center field. And Adam Duvall, a guy who hit 31 home runs and drove in 99 last year, was sitting on the bench.
It was an indicator of how Price intends to use his four-headed outfield of Winker, Hamilton, Duvall and Scott Schebler.
His explanation for batting Hamilton ninth, behind the pitcher, is clear and sensical. Usually the pitcher bats ninth and if the No.8 hitter gets on base the pitcher bunts him over. Price doesn’t want that scenario with Hamilton batting eighth. With Hamilton on base and his penchant for swiping bases, if he gets on base there is no need for the pitcher to bunt him over.
And once the batting order rolls over, Price in effect has two leadoff hitters back-to-back with Hamilton batting ninth and Winker batting first.
So why is Duvall on the bench? As Price explained, Washington pitcher Max Scherzer has more problems with lefthanded hitters than he does with righthanders — as if Scherzer really struggles against any hitters. But the Reds outfield did put lefthanders at all three spots — Winker left, Hamilton center, Scott Schebler right.
Price, of course, made certain both Hamilton and Duvall understood his methodology.
Explaining it to the media, Price said, “Coming into the season I was very confident that we would have a four-man outfield rotation. Now it comes down to finding not just the best matchups but finding the right combination because we have four guys who are regular major league outfielders. And I’m not going to have anybody sitting on the bench for three, four or five days in a row. I’ll keep all these guys in the mix because we have four really good outfielders. I’ll keep floating them around.”
Price admits it is a tough situation to sit any of the four down for a day, especially a guy like Duvall, who has 64 home runs and 202 RBI that last two seasons.
“It’s really hard and I talked to Adam yesterday because I didn’t want him to see the lineup and see that he isn’t in it,” said Price. “He is really good for me and the team and the way he goes about his business. This isn’t an indictment. It has nothing to do with Adam (although he hit only one home run all spring). It has to do with the fact I have four guys to play and I have to pick the situations. I’d like to have Duvall out there for Opening Day, but our idea is to go out there and attack with our best group. Adam will be back in there tomorrow (Saturday) and on a regular basis.”
Price talked to Hamilton, too, before hanging the evidence on the clubhouse whiteboard.
“With Billy getting on base ahead of Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez and Joey Votto it creates an issue where we’ll get some better pitches to hit, some rushed fastballs for that group.”
That, of course, is incumbent upon Hamilton discovering first base with some regularity, something he has not been able to do. But Price quickly adds, “He’ll be batting leadoff as well this year. The nine-hole isn’t a spot he’ll fill the rest of the year. There will be matchups where I like Billy at the top of the order rather than the bottom.
“I’ve talked to Billy and he is fully aware how he will be used this year,” Price added.
Hamilton, of course, wants to bat leadoff but accepts Price’s concept, even if he doesn’t exactly embrace it.
“I definitely want to be the leadoff guy because that’s what I’ve been my whole career,” said Hamilton before Friday’s game. “For me, I’m just happy to be in the lineup.”
If he means that, and there is no reason to doubt it, that’s the right attitude because he is far, far away from being Rickey Henderson.
“It doesn’t matter to me when I’m in the lineup where I hit, but I definitely want that No. 1 spot,” he said. “But I also know I have to earn that spot. It isn’t something that is just going to be given to me. I’ve always been a guy who takes on challenges. Bryan called me in and told me what the situation was. It is not surprising to me that it happened today. I feel I’m a leadoff hitter and that’s where I should always be at. But, for sure, I’d rather hit ninth than eighth. I don’t like hitting ahead of the pitcher where when I get on base he bunts me over. I’d rather steal it.”
Hamilton, though, uttered the key words — he has to earn it. A four-year career on base average of .298 just doesn’t cut it for a leadoff hitter and a .278 on base average during spring training definirely says, “Bat me ninth, bat me ninth.”
And the credit goes to Price for having the guts and the confidence to do what he believes needs to be done.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Reds manager Bryan Price on his young pitching staff: “We’re going to throw our young guys into the fire to see if they learn and continue to improve.”