Sure, it’s only February and the games are of little consequence, but something significant did happen prior to Sunday’s finale of a three-game spring training set with the Indians, a game Cleveland won by a 3-0 score.
Atop names like Phillips, Votto, Ludwick and Bruce on the lineup card posted inside the door of the Reds’ locker room was something management hopes to see more of in the future:
That marked phenom Billy Hamilton’s debut as the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, a role he isn’t likely to see much of this year with veteran Shin-Soo Choo on the roster. But the organization’s top prospect and the greatest single-season base-stealer in the history of the minor leagues weighs heavily in the team’s future plans, even if most expect he’ll start this year in Triple-A.
The man who swiped an incredible 155 bases last year between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola was excited to get the starting nod.
“I’d been watching these guys for the past few days, watching what they do,” said Hamilton, who struck out in the first, then nearly beat out a routine grounder to short in the third. “This was a big day, just being in the lineup with most of the guys who are gonna be in the big leagues. It’s fun.”
Manager Dusty Baker has insisted there’s no room for Hamilton in the Reds outfield assuming that Choo, Ludwick, Bruce and Chris Heisey will be available for duty once the season starts.
Hamilton said he’s not worried about the timeline. After becoming the only two-time winner of the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award as the team’s minor leaguer of the year, the 22-year-old said he’s been watching starters like Choo closely, picking up pointers along the way.
“All these guys have been treating me really well and I’ve been trying to learn from them,” Hamilton said. “Of course, they’ve been talking about the stolen bases and how unreal it is. But there’s not a rush for me. As long as I can get out here, play my game, have some fun and not worry about being scared or nervous around those guys.”
Arizona’s Windy City?: With four summers as manager at Wrigley Field on his resume, Baker is well aware of the havoc wind can wreak on a baseball field.
But even Baker was surprised by the gusts that made Sunday morning’s workout a challenge. The flags at Goodyear Ballpark were blowing out hard to right field, and tumbleweeds rolled along on nearby Estrella Parkway.
Baker said the winds woke him on Saturday night as he thought a rain storm had rolled through town, but added that the unusual conditions can only help his team get ready for the regular season.
“The one element that most players don’t like is the wind,” Baker said. “They can take cold, they can take heat, but that wind, boy. There’s very little preparation for the wind. You get in places like San Francisco, New York sometimes, Chicago most of the time, you’ve got to try to prepare for the wind.”
Hamilton agreed, and as he continues a transition from shortstop to center field, he said any practice will help. Hamilton made a nice catch in the first inning on a liner off the bat of former Cincinnati outfielder Drew Stubbs, making what could’ve been a difficult play look routine.
“It’s something I’ve got to adjust to. You’ve got to get used to it. You never know what it’s going to be like during the season,” Hamilton said of the wind. “It’s good for me to learn. I’d rather make a mistake now than make one in the season.”
Notes: In his Indians’ debut, Daisuke Matsuzaka held the Reds hitless in two frames, surrendering only a single walk to Joey Votto. The expected media blitz surrounding Dice-K was tempered because Cleveland played a split-squad game, and manager Terry Francona accompanied the other team to a meeting with the Brewers in Maryvale. … The Reds will send right-handed reclamation project Armando Gallaraga to the hill to start against the Brewers today (3:05 p.m. EST). Gallaraga is best known for having the near-perfect game while with the Detroit Tigers in 2010, but subsequently struggled in single seasons with both Arizona and Houston. Relievers Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton are also scheduled to pitch for Cincinnati. … According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Neftali Soto’s four-hit showing on Saturday was just the third time a Reds player has turned that trick in the last seven spring trainings. Brandon Phillips did so in 2012 against the Cubs while Chris Dickerson had four hits against Oakland back in 2010.