Billy Hamilton was changing clothes in the Reds Great American Ball Park clubhouse when a writer walked up and said “Congratulations.”
“For what?” Hamilton replied.
“You’re setting a career high for games played today,” he was told.
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Hamilton was in the lineup for the final game of Cincinnati’s 2018 season, batting second for the first time this season and 31st time in his career as a starter. The game would be his 153rd, surpassing by one the 152 he played as a rookie in 2014.
“I was just thinking about that the other day,” said the center fielder, who turned 28 on Sept. 9. “This is going to be the first time I’ll finish the season. I’ll be on the field instead of sitting in the dugout watching the guys battle.”
Since 2014, Hamilton has been limited by injury to 114 games in 2015, 119 games in 2016 and 139 games last season. He was out from Sept. 24 through the end of the season in 2015 and missed the last 27 games in 2016. Last season, he was active for the last nine games, but only after missing two weeks in mid-September with a broken thumb.
Many of Hamilton’s injury problems stem from his breakneck-style of play, which he put on display again in the first inning of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Pittsburgh. Going into a slide to cut off Starling Marte’s drive toward the left-center field gap, his left spike got caught in the turf and he went pinwheeling, heels over head, toward left field. He survived and finished the game.
“(Coach) Billy Hatcher told me when I came in, ‘Hey, you’ve got to chill out a little bit out there,’” Hamilton said.
Plays such as that are part of the reason Hamilton has been a Gold Glove finalist each of the last four seasons and is likely to be among the candidates again this season.
Hamilton setting a personal games-played record seemed unlikely at the start of the season, when then-manager Bryan Price was utilizing a four-man outfield rotation, but injuries suffered by Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler and the trade of Adam Duvall forced Riggleman, who replaced the fired Price on April 19, to keep writing Hamilton’s name in the lineup.
“I wasn’t expecting to play that many games,” Hamilton admitted.
Hamilton went into Sunday’s game hitting .235 overall, his lowest average since hitting .226 in 2015, but he was riding a modest four-game hitting streak. He was planning to take two weeks off after the season before heading to Arizona for extensive off-season workouts with Winker, Schebler and shortstop Jose Peraza.
“I don’t think I’ve done enough in the off-season,” he said. “I know this off-season will be one of my biggest off-seasons.”
Chasing Barry: Peraza went into Sunday’s game needing three hits to tie Baseball Hall-of-Famer Barry Larkin for the franchise single-season record for hits by a shortstop. Larkin piled up 185 in 1990, the last season the Reds won a World Series. Peraza’s 182 were eight more than Larkin had in 1998 and nine ahead of the 173 compiled by Leo Cardenas in 1962.
Peraza also was one of just two players in the major leagues with at least 182 hits, 31 doubles, 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases. The other was Indians’ shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Peraza, with one more hit than sidelined second baseman Scooter Gennett, was likely to finish the season as the first shortstop to lead the Reds in hits since Felipe Lopez had 169 in 2005. Sunday’s start, in the leadoff slot, would push to a team-high 157 his number of games.
“José is becoming a really good player,” interim Reds manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s doing a good job – still progressing both offensively and defensively. He’s a guy that wants to be in there every day. I’m sure he leads our club in innings on the field, number of at-bats, plate appearances and all that. He is finishing up strong – just a great example of what you do. You take care of yourself and go out there and play hard from Day One until the end of the season.”
Peraza’s season is one reason Hamilton is looking forward to the two working together.
“He made himself a great hitter,” Hamilton said.
Next up: RedsFest, the team’s annual winter fan festival, is scheduled for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. Last year’s event drew 16,266 fans.