Hamilton will play regularly, despite offensive woes

Hamilton will play regularly, despite offensive woes

SAN DIEGO -- Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton has struggled mightily with his hitting the entire season to this point. Despite that, manager Bryan Price has kept writing Hamilton's name in the lineup, even if it's often in the ninth spot behind the pitcher.

Price expects Hamilton to continue playing regularly.

"For me, I have to look at the whole package," Price said on Tuesday. "And what he provides from a defensive standpoint is significant for him to continue to be out there and get regular playing time. What he does on the bases, when he is on the bases, is big. And he's 24, and I certainly anticipate him becoming a more effective offensive player.

"That being said, he hasn't reached the bar we've set for him or he's set for himself. Going into the offseason, there will certainly be a plan and approach, and I think gaining some strength and really being able to manipulate the bat a little bit differently is going to be an important part of his maturity as a hitter."

Hamilton, who was dropped to the bottom portion of the order from being a regular leadoff hitter in May, entered the night batting .221/.267/.281. But his 52 steals in 59 chances lead the Majors, and he's made several dynamic plays in the field, including a diving catch in Monday's 2-1 loss to the Padres. When bunting for hits, he came in 11-for-27 (.407).

Last season, Hamilton batted .250/.292/.355 with 56 stolen bases. The hope was that he would use his speed to hit balls on the ground more to get on base, but it has yet to work out.

The club, Price said, has continued to encourage and work with Hamilton on the physical and mental approach to hitting, telling him to stay aggressive.

"I think there are times where there's probably a little bit of conflict on how to be a successful as he can be," Price said. "Is he a speed guy? Is he a slash-and-dash guy? Is he comfortable enough with his left-handed swing to stay with it? I know it's been a frustrating thing -- his hitting from the left side. It doesn't stand out as much if the guys around him are having more productive seasons."

Hamilton is a natural right-handed hitter, but there are no plans for him to give up switch-hitting.

"It's hard to be good from both sides on a consistent basis," Price said. "I think that's just one of the mental challenges as a switch hitter."

Worth noting:

• Former Reds manager Dusty Baker was at Petco Park before Tuesday's game and visited with several players, coaches and Price. Among the players to embrace their old skipper were Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Sean Marshall.

Baker, who managed Cincinnati from 2008-13, was joined at the ballpark by his wife, Melissa, and 16-year-old son, Darren, who has baseball tournaments in the area this week.

• Marshall threw in the bullpen for the third time since his May shoulder surgery. Price said that the left-handed reliever will have bullpen sessions every third day, but there is no date set for when he might face hitters again.

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