Veteran Duvall odd man out on Opening Day in Reds’ four-man OF rotation

The Reds’ Adam Duvall hits a two-run home run in the first inning against the Brewers on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
The Reds’ Adam Duvall hits a two-run home run in the first inning against the Brewers on Tuesday, June 27, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Winker in leadoff spot, Hamilton bats ninth

While no one is quite sure how good or bad the Cincinnati Reds might be in 2018, manager Bryan Price delivered a surprise before the first game of the season even started.

First of all, there was the leadoff spot. Billy Hamilton was there on the previous four Opening Days, but not Friday .

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In his place was Jesse Winker, who is expected to play a lot this season but presumably would be watching veterans Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler to begin game No. 1.

Stats won over any potential hurt feelings though when Price put him in left field instead of Duvall.

“It has nothing to do with Adam as much as it has to do with I have four guys who are going to play and I’m going to try to pick the situations,” Price said.

“Sentimentally I would like to have (Duvall) run out there on Opening Day, but our goal as a team is to go out there and attack with our best group. And in this particular case the splits suggest left-handed hitters are better against (right-handed Washington starter Max) Scherzer than right-handed hitters. Adam will be back in there (Saturday) and on a very regular basis.”

Schebler and Winker both bat from the left side while Duvall is a righty and Hamilton is a switch hitter.

Although Schebler and Duvall both hit more than 30 homers last year, the team has been high on Winker for some time.

He hit .298 with an on-base percentage of .375 last season, his first in the big leagues, and finished with an OPS of .904.

Those numbers were all much higher than Schebler (.233/.307/.791) or Duvall (.249/.301/.782), albeit in a much smaller sample size.

With his patience and bat control, Winker projects as a new-age leadoff hitter despite not having great speed.

Stat-heads have long-clamored for Hamilton to be removed from the leadoff spot because of his .298 career OBP, but most observers assumed he would stay there thanks to his blazing speed and ability to wreak havoc when he is on base.

“Of course I want to be the leadoff guy,” Hamilton said. “That’s a role I’ve had my whole career, but I’m happy to be in the lineup. I feel like it doesn’t matter where I hit. I definitely want to move back up to one. I know for a fact I have to earn that spot again. That’s not something that’s going to be just given to me. I’ve always been a guy who loves to take on challenges.”

Price dropped him to the No. 9 spot on Opening Day, and it sounds like he will be there most of the time.

The manager and Hamilton agree ninth is preferable to hitting in front of the pitcher.

“I think getting on base ahead of Winker, (Eugenio) Suarez, (Joey) Votto, etc., creates an issue where perhaps we get better pitches to hit,” Price said. “Get some rushed fastballs for that group.”