Hamilton setting records, getting wiser with his speed

Hamilton setting records, getting wiser with his speed

CINCINNATI -- Billy Hamilton isn't just running fast on the bases, the Reds' center fielder is running smarter, too.

A lot of good things happened in the three-game series sweep over the Pirates to open the season and the 5-4 win over the Cardinals on Friday. One of them was certainly Hamilton's base-stealing efforts.

Hamilton also quickly made history. By going 7-for-7 in steals in the first four games, he became only the second player since 1900 to have seven or more stolen bases in his first four games of a season. Vince Coleman also did it for the Cardinals in 1987. Coleman stole 109 bases that season.

"It's different from last year," Hamilton said before Friday's game vs. the Cardinals. "We have Joey [Votto], who is hot right now. I feel like now, I don't have to steal right away. I don't have to steal on the first pitch or second pitch. I can wait around a little bit and go whenever the right time is so I feel confident over there."

Hamilton could also soon match Barry Larkin, who in 1988 was the last Reds player to have at least one steal in each of his first six games.

Hamilton, Votto on Reds' win

"Billy is so exciting," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "I know my rookie year I hit some bumps along the road and it was a learning experience for me.

"My second year I found myself. I'm hoping, and I'd imagine Billy is hoping, that the second year is more true to his talent level. He's looked fantastic so far. He's one of the most exciting players I have ever played with."

As a rookie in 2014, Hamilton stole 56 bases, which was second in the National League. But he also led the Majors in being caught 23 times.

"It's not that his speed is any better or his ability to get reads and jumps, I think he's making better decisions on when to go," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He's taking a lot of the intelligence information that we have and putting it to work for him. [He knows] when to shut it down when there's a good slide-step.

"Most of the league is going to make a pretty good effort to try to slow him down by being quicker to the plate or throwing over a lot. Really it comes down to picking good spots to go and not trying to force things that aren't there."

In the third inning Thursday with A.J. Burnett pitching for Pittsburgh, Hamilton even stole second base successfully when catcher Tony Sanchez called for a pitchout.

Hamilton swipes second base

"I've been getting a lot of good jumps already," Hamilton said. "I feel like my jumps are way better than they were last year. I feel like I'm reading the pitchers better so that's a good thing. I'm just looking forward to getting better over there."

Hamilton has also worked closely with first-base coach Billy Hatcher, and just as importantly, heeding his advice.

"He's telling me what he sees and I'm telling him what I see," Hamilton said. "We're making the decision on when I should go or not or what he thinks is going to happen the next pitch.

"He's been one of those guys, I didn't really do that last year. I didn't really ask him on what pitch I should go. It was, 'I'm going, Hatch no matter what's happening.' I learned the game this offseason a little bit better."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.