Cincinnati fans were treated to full helping of pennant stretch excitement at Great American Ball Park Tuesday as the Reds picked up their second win in as many games in their big four-game series against St. Louis. Homer Bailey got the call and was up to the task, mowing down the Cardinals for seven shutout innings while limiting them to two hits and striking out eight against only one walk. Manny Parra relieved him with a scoreless eighth and handed over a 1-0 lead to Aroldis Chapman who made his first appearance since July 24. The Cuban Missile wasted no time uncorking his unique brand of electricity by cracking triple digits with his first pitch and striking out all three batters faced for the save.
The Reds were limited to five hits themselves with Shin-soo Choo reaching safely with three walks. For a game that was largely devoid of offense, things got very lively in the seventh inning when top Reds prospect Billy Hamilton made his MLB debut at a pinch runner. Though it was brief it had no shortage of thrill after he replaced Ryan Ludwick who led off the inning with a single. Not many brand new big leaguers would immediately attempt a stolen base against gold glove catcher Yadier Molina, but then again, not many of them can steal bases like Hamilton.
Obviously his reputation preceded him as he drew repeated pickoff attempts. That didn’t stop him as he swiped second base to put himself in scoring position with no one out. With runs precious at the late stages of a scoreless game Todd Frazier was unable to advance him with a bunt, which turned out to be just fine because he doubled a 1-2 pitch into left field to plate the game’s only run.
Hamilton has been through a learning curve this year in AAA. Less than a week shy of his 23rd birthday, he’s been on a fast track and did improve at the plate over the course of the season. Though the jury is still out on his readiness as an MLB hitter, the verdict was returned a long time ago on his ability to swipe a bag as the speedster stole an incredible 333 bases over the past three seasons with an 82% success rate.
Though Hamilton might not get many plate appearances this season as the Reds try to chase down a couple of teams ahead of them in the division, he does offer a rare dimension of disruptive speed that really torques up the pressure on defenses when he’s on base. The Reds will have a decision to make during the offseason when considering whether to enter the bidding war to keep Choo in atop their lineup or turn the job over to a .252 AAA hitter. In the meantime they will enjoy the remainder of Choo’s contract and utilize Hamilton as a “not-so-secret weapon” in late-game situations. His speed had a huge impact on one tight game already and manager Dusty Baker will look for more opportunities to fire that bullet.
The win pulled Cincinnati to within a game and a half of the second place Cardinals and they remained three and a half behind division leader Pittsburgh who won at Milwaukee. They will send Bronson Arroyo to the mound on Wednesday as they go for their fourth consecutive win over the Redbirds. The Reds also announced that Tony Cingrani will come off the DL and be available for the series finale Thursday.