Billy Hamilton Should See Significant Action in Reds' NL Wild Card Game
Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton is only 23 years old and has just 13 games of MLB experience under his belt.
In spite of that, manager Dusty Baker should utilize the youngster as much as possible in Tuesday evening's National League Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While this would normally sound like a rather reckless strategy considering Hamilton's lack of proven ability at pro baseball's highest level, the matchup and situation make a strong case for Hamilton to play a lot.
I'm told Billy Hamilton is on #Reds roster for NL Wild Card Game tonight. Mike Leake is their long man. No Latos, Arroyo or Reynolds.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 1, 2013
Hamilton is a speed demon on the basepaths and stole 13 bases in his brief regular season action while only getting caught once.
The Reds are going up against prolific southpaw Francisco Liriano, who won 16 games and had an ERA of 3.02 in 2013.
What makes Liriano most dangerous, though, is that he is 8-1 at PNC Park this season with a 1.47 ERA. Liriano has destroyed left-handed hitters, too, yielding a .131 batting average.
Those numbers have to look ominous for Cincinnati, which has a lineup dependent on lefties Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo to produce the big hits.
All of them have at least 20 home runs, but struggle far more against left-handed pitchers. Choo has batted just .215 against lefties this year, while Votto hits .251 as opposed to .332 versus right-handed hurlers.
It's not as though Hamilton has proven himself against left-handed pitchers, but he can at least provide a spark as a right-handed hitter in facing the lefty Liriano.
If the entire 162-game sample size on Liriano, Choo and Votto is any indication, the Reds are going to have to rely on small ball to win on the road.
How should the Reds use Billy Hamilton on Tuesday?
There isn't anyone better to stretch a single into a double, to swipe a base at a pivotal moment or cross the plate on a single from second base than Hamilton on the Reds' roster.
That doesn't mean Hamilton should start. Sitting Choo or anyone else at this point would be blasphemous. After all, Hamilton batted only .256 in Triple-A baseball this year, per Baseball-Reference.com.
But he also stole 155 bases in the minor leagues in 2012, per MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, and Hamilton has shown no signs of slowing down in his brief stint in the big leagues.
Having said that, this isn't a postseason series. It's one game, and it's win or go home. The Reds would be wise to insert Hamilton if at all possible should Cincinnati's lineup, driven by left-handed batters, struggle against Liriano.
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