Hamilton to start season at bottom of lineup

Price hopes center fielder can establish himself as leadoff man in 2016

Hamilton to start season at bottom of lineup

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds' final Cactus League lineup of this spring had center fielder Billy Hamilton batting ninth. There were hopes that Hamilton would establish himself as the team's leadoff hitter, but manager Bryan Price told him he would have to earn his way up the lineup during the season.

"I said, 'We'd love for you to be at the top of the order, but you're going to have to be swinging the bat and get on base at a higher percentage to get back there,'" Price said before Thursday's game 3-1 loss to the Indians. "That's not a shot across the bow. It's just the reality that I'd much rather have him hit at the top of the order, but in the same respect you have to have the efficiency in order to get all those at-bats.

"He'll continue to work on the things he's working on, keeping the ball out of the air, getting his bunts down, commanding the strike zone, getting on base at a higher rate, but he still gives us that at the bottom of the order something to get excited about and setting the table on the other side of the lineup."

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Hamilton's two-run double

Until he went 2-for-3 Wednesday vs. the White Sox with a double and a triple, Hamilton hadn't put it together at the plate a lot this spring. After an early setback with his surgically-repaired right shoulder, he didn't debut in center field until March 18.

Shortstop Zack Cozart led off on Thursday, and Price indicated he could be there at the top on Monday for Opening Day vs. the Phillies.

Hamilton struggled at the plate in 2015 and lost his leadoff job. He batted .226/.274/.289 in 114 games. But he brought his speed to the table with 57 steals and stellar defense covering ground in the outfield.

"I really want Billy to be our leadoff guy. He's a prototype from a speed perspective for what he can do on the bases. We just need to get him on base a lot more," Price said.

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Hamilton's bunt single

As for the shoulder, Hamilton has made enough progress to be ready for Opening Day. His playing time might be reduced slightly early in the season to give his arm a rest.

"I don't think he's where he was midseason last year as far as his throwing goes. I think we're well on our way in that regard," Price said. "As far as his hitting and stuff, there's been nothing [wrong] … since we've gotten him back in the swing of things and playing. He hasn't had any issues swinging the bat at all."

• Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez has been out this week with a strained left hamstring. Rodriguez, who is out of Minor League options, was on the bubble for one of the three final bench spots on the 25-man roster.

In his 21 games, the 23-year-old Rodriguez batted .225/.250/.354 (9-for-40) and made a few defensive mistakes in the outfield this spring.

• Left-handed starter Brandon Finnegan threw 86 pitches in a Minor League game on Thursday. Over his 5 1/3 innings, Finnegan allowed five earned runs, seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts. He is set to make his regular season debut on Wednesday vs. the Phillies.

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.