Maddon calls Reds' Hamilton a 'game changer'

Maddon calls Reds' Hamilton a 'game changer'

CINCINNATI -- Billy Hamilton didn't waste any time running on Chicago's Jon Lester. The Cubs weren't surprised. The Reds' center fielder has done that to other pitchers, as well.

"I know the focus is on Jon, but I promise [Hamilton] has done that to other people," manager Joe Maddon said on Saturday. "My biggest concern there is to not permit a big inning, and that's part of the bigger inning."

Hamilton singled to lead off Friday's game, then stole second during Joey Votto's at-bat, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Votto's groundout. But that was the Reds' only run that inning.

Lester tried to adjust his timing to throw Hamilton off, but the speedster singled to open the third, then stole second, and third, before scoring on another groundout. The Cubs rallied to win the game, 7-3, in 11 innings.

"Probably the most inconvenient thing you can do for a baserunner is to hold the baseball," Maddon said. "When a pitcher holds the ball, nothing bothers them more than that, and then all of a sudden you go quickly. Beyond the move, it's the time, set, and altering that which can really make a big difference. It's all about the jump. Everybody looks at the back part of the play -- the play occurs with the first step out of the box."

Opponents have now swiped eight bases against Lester in his four starts with the Cubs, who did throw to first this year on April 13. It was the first time he had done that since April 2013. Last year, teams totaled 16 stolen bases in Lester's 32 starts.

Hamilton has been tough to stop. He leads the Major Leagues with 12 stolen bases, and has been caught stealing once.

"When he gets out there, he's definitely a game changer," Maddon said. "I didn't realize how well he throws. He made that throw to third base and the guy's got a really good arm. He's a good baseball player who can really fly."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.