Reds manager continues starts for Hamilton despite slump

Interim manager Jim Riggleman offered an explanation Sunday for why the Cincinnati Reds continue to play center fielder Billy Hamilton as his struggles at the plate continue.

Hamilton was in the lineup, batting ninth, for the final game of a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. It was his fourth start in the last five games.

“We definitely want his defense in there,” Riggleman said. “He’s off the charts how good he is defensively. Especially when we’re in the bigger ballparks, we have to have him in there. Even here, in a smaller ballpark, it still shows up. On many days, there are plays where everybody’s giving great effort, but they just can’t get to a ball Billy would get to. We’re still holding out hope that Billy’s going to get his offensive game to a point where he’s out there every day.”

Hamilton was hitless in his last 15 at-bats entering Sunday. He had one hit in his last 25 at-bats. He hit .172 in April and pushed his average as high as .219 in May. It has since fallen to .191. His on-base percentage climbed to .322 on May 6 and now stands at .283.

In six seasons with the Reds, Hamilton is hitting .243 with a .297 on-base percentage. Of the 20 center fielders in baseball who have enough bats to qualify for the league leaders, Hamilton ranks 19th in average and 18th in on-base percentage.

“With Billy, it’s all about on-base percentage,” Riggleman said. “Billy scores runs at a higher rate than pretty much anybody in baseball when he’s on base. Early in the year, he was approaching that .320 number. He’s drifted back since that time. Basically, however he does it, we need him in that .320 range. Three twenty is not high for a lot of guys, but for him, it’s a good number because he’s creating havoc. He scores runs. Whether it’s a walk or a base hit, however he does it, we’ve got to get him on base.”

Next step: Reds starter Homer Bailey, who is on the 10-day disabled list with right knee inflammation, will make a rehab start for Triple-A Louisville on Monday. Riggleman wasn't sure how far Bailey will go into the game.

“He’s pitched into the sixth inning, 100-pitch range here,” Riggleman said. “It’s been 10 days or so. I would be surprised if he goes past five. If he’s at five and 80 pitches, he’ll probably continue on. We’re more concerned about the health and the quality of the pitches he’s throwing.”

Looking ahead: The Reds are off Monday and start a two-game series on the road against the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday. It's a matchup of two of the three worst teams in baseball. Both teams were 22-43 through Saturday. Only the Baltimore Orioles (19-44) were worse.

Sal Romano (3-7, 6.23 ERA) and Tyler Mahle (4-6, 4.33) start for the Reds against Ian Kennedy (1-6, 5.76) and Jason Hammel (2-6, 5.12).

The Reds are 8-13 against the Royals in interleague play and have lost five straight games in the series since an 11-5 victory at Great American Ball Park on June 12, 2010.

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