Better eye, better contact key to Hamilton’s offensive improvement

The Reds’ Billy Hamilton swings against the Rockies on Sunday, May 21, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
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The Reds’ Billy Hamilton swings against the Rockies on Sunday, May 21, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Reds manager Bryan Price isn’t a big fan of millennial-oriented statistics such as “exit velocity,” but he almost couldn’t avoid using the growing-in-popularity term when asked recently about Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton’s offensive improvement.

Hamilton reached base once on an error in Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Colorado, snapping at a career-high 21 his streak of consecutive games in which he reached base at least once by either a hit, walk or being hit by a pitch. Hamilton batted .312 (29-for-93) with four doubles, three triples, one home run, 12 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases during the surge, which pushed his overall average to .266 over his first 39 games of the season.

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Last season Hamilton hit .231 through his first 39 games.

So, what’s made Hamilton more of a threat at the plate? After lauding his improved command of the strike zone, Price added an observation.

“He’s also hitting the ball harder, getting it through the infield and over the infield and for extra bases,” Price said. “He’s not necessarily swinging harder, but he’s making better contact. I guess you could say exit velocity, which is a term I’m not entirely used to, yet, but you’d have to say that, if the ball is coming off of his bat harder, he’s got better exit velocity.”

The improvement is an extension of the second half of Hamilton’s 2016 season. He batted .293 after last year’s All-Star Game after hitting .236 in the first half.

“It’s just me learning the game and getting better,” said Hamilton, who’s already in his fourth full season with the Reds and has sensed that he is, in fact, hitting the ball harder. “I’m staying square and staying through the ball.”

Baby steps: Left-handed pitcher Brandon Finnegan is scheduled to take another step on the road back from his left shoulder injury on Tuesday when he throws from a mound for the first time since going on the disabled list on April 16. Finnegan, who was 1-0 with a 2.70 earned-run average in three starts before being sidelined, is scheduled to throw 20 pitches on Tuesday and 35 on Saturday, he said.

“I’m excited,” he said. “We’ve been on kind of a soft track, but I feel great. I’m ready to go.”

He’s hoping to throw one more bullpen after Saturday, followed by a session of throwing live batting practice before going out on rehab assignment. He’s hoping to accelerate his progress

“I thought it would be 10 days and start throwing and be back in a couple of weeks,” he said.

Price believes Finnegan and right-hander Homer Bailey, who continues to work in Arizona as he tries to put behind him three surgical procedures on his right arm over the past 32 months, could return to the Reds rotation at about the same time.

“He and Homer are very, very close,” Price said. “We’re shooting for between (June) 19th and 24th for both of them – maybe a little later.”

Cozart back: After getting Sunday off due in part to a sore left wrist that's plagued him for a month, shortstop Zack Cozart was back in Cincinnati's starting lineup for Monday's opener of the four-game, two-city Ohio Cup interleague series with Cleveland. Price waited on Monday until Cozart underwent treatment and performed some baseball activities before filling out a lineup card.

Cozart took a five-game hitting streak (.429, 9-for-21), including three multi-hit games, into Monday’s game. He had hit safely at least once in 13 of his last 14 games.

Ohio Cup: Cleveland has won the last two season series against the Reds, going 5-1 in 2015 and 4-0 in 2016. The Reds went into Monday's game 1-4 in their last five home games against the Indians.

Next up: Left-hander Amir Garrett (3-3, 5.18 ERA) is Cincinnati's scheduled starter on Tuesday against Cleveland in the last game of the brief five-game home stand. Garrett allowed six runs and five hits, including two home runs, on Thursday against the Cubs in Chicago in his first start since being optioned to Triple-A Louisville.

Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 260), the Indians’ scheduled starter, has not pitched since May 15, when he left a start against Tampa Bay in the fourth inning with left pectoral tightness.

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