Hamilton marks birthday with return to lineup

Starting for first time since Aug. 18, outfielder brings enthusiasm from Pensacola

Hamilton marks birthday with return to lineup

CINCINNATI -- On Wednesday, which happened to be his 25th birthday, one of center fielder Billy Hamilton's presents was getting to play baseball for the Reds again. Hamilton, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 18.

That was the game when Hamilton sprained the capsule inside his right shoulder attempting a diving catch vs. the Royals. He was placed on the DL the following day.

"It's not fun watching your guys going to war without you," Hamilton said before Wednesday night's 5-4 loss to the Pirates. "I wanted to be out there with them. I'm happy to be back with the guys."

Hamilton gets Escobar on review

Instead of batting ninth like he has most of the time since mid-May, Hamilton was back in the leadoff spot. Because a left-hander in Pirates starter J.A. Happ was pitching, manager Bryan Price thought Hamilton batting on his stronger right-handed side would provide an edge.

Batting .224/.271/.288 in 108 games with 54 steals, Hamilton was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a walk vs. Pittsburgh. That included a strikeout to end the game representing the go-ahead run. He caught a couple of fly balls in center field -- including Andrew McCutchen sacrifice fly in the first inning and Francisco Cervelli's in the fifth, after which he made an overamped throw to the infield -- but had no plays at the plate.

Hamilton makes a strong throw

During his three-game rehab assignment at Double-A Pensacola, Hamilton was 3-for-11 with three walks and a stolen base. Most importantly, there were no issues with his shoulder while hitting or playing defense.

"There wasn't a play where I threw anybody out, but I just tried to throw it hard anyway to see how my shoulder felt," Hamilton said. "I had four at-bats each game, five in one. So I swung a lot, and I tested my shoulder in the outfield when I threw a couple of balls in real hard. It felt really, really good. I'm just glad to be back."

Unlike the 57-81 Reds, who have been out of contention for quite a while, Hamilton got to be part of a pennant-chase atmosphere in the Minor Leagues. Pensacola clinched a spot in the Southern League postseason.

"It was real fun," Hamilton said. "Those guys, I've played with a few of them and been around most of them in Spring Training. It's always good to see those guys and get back down there. It just feels good to be, like, in a playoff thing, whether it's the big leagues or whatever you're doing. I see those guys get all into it and be all about winning.

"It's a good thing to be down there, and knowing it's getting closer to me playing is a good thing. I played there in 2012, and it was kind of fun to see those guys that were there -- the staff and people who run it."

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.