Hamilton regains leadoff spot for Cincinnati Reds

Billy Hamilton didn’t have a mirror handy when he walked into the clubhouse before Friday’s game, but he’s pretty sure he knows what he looked like when he saw that he was batting leadoff in manager Bryan Price’s batting order.

“I thought, ‘Is that a misprint?’ ” the center fielder said. “I’m sure my face lit up.”

Hamilton batted leadoff against the Arizona Diamondbacks for the first time since June 29 and 11th time this season. . He earned the promotion from the No. 2 slot, trading places with shortstop Zack Cozart, while hitting .389 during a four-game hitting streak and .333 over his last seven games.

“It’s a move I wanted to make when he started getting on base more,” Price said. “Zack’s not a base stealer. Billy is, but I had to warrant putting Billy ahead of Zack. Now, Billy getting on base could put the infield in motion and open some holes for Zack to work with. There could be a lot of good things happen if it works out the way we want it to. I’m really happy with the way Billy has played. It may seem like a minor switch, but we think it can help the offense. It’s something we wanted to try once we started seeing more production from Billy.”

Even batting second, Hamilton has been particularly destructive lately. He’s stolen five bases and scored six runs in his last seven games, and he’s scored from second on a passed ball and on a fielder’s-choice grounder to third that Adam Duvall beat out to prevent a double play. He also scored from third on a walkoff passed ball to beat Milwaukee on Sunday.

He hopes to keep the pressure on at leadoff.

“That’s where I want to be,” he said. “Leadoff is always where I’ve been, but Bryan told me that if I don’t earn the spot, then I’m not going to be there. It’s tough playing my game at the bottom of the order. My game is being aggressive. I’m going to take what I was doing down lower to the ‘1’ hole.”

One more: Right-hander Homer Bailey will make at least one more start for Triple-A Louisville before the Reds decide he's ready to the return to the majors.

Bailey, who hasn’t pitched since May 2015 and is trying to come back from Tommy John surgery, is due to start Monday, and Price said they’d like to see him reach 90 pitches. He threw 83 in his last start on Wednesday.

“He felt very good for five innings, but then he tired in the sixth,” Price said. “He wasn’t going to force it. That’s where you get into trouble. He was smart enough to acknowledge it.”

Even if Bailey reaches 90 pitches, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed he’ll rejoin the Reds rotation. The upcoming schedule includes enough days off that the Reds won’t need a fifth starter until at least August 6 in Pittsburgh.

“Homer will get one more on the 25th, then we’ll see where he is,” Price said. “We’ll assess whether he’ll continue in the minors or come up.”

Spot start: Right-hander Keyvius Sampson, who stretched himself out with four innings of relief July 16, gets the spot start on Saturday for Cincinnati in the second game of the three-game series against the National League West Division cellar-dwelling Diamondbacks. Sampson (0-1) will be opposed by left-hander Robbie Ray (5-8) in the 7:10 p.m. game.

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