Pirates notebook: Reds' speedster Hamilton on Bucs' radar

The Reds' Billy Hamilton gives a fist pump in the dugout on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, during a game against the Pirates.
The Reds' Billy Hamilton gives a fist pump in the dugout on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, during a game against the Pirates.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Travis Sawchik
| Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 8:15 p.m.

One of the Pirates' challenges against the Reds this weekend is to slow down the fastest player in baseball, perhaps the fastest player to play the game in decades.

Some baseball analysts say they've never seen a player as fast as Reds rookie Billy Hamilton, who stole 155 bases last year, a professional baseball record. Hamilton went 4 for 4 in stolen-base attempts against the Astros on Wednesday in his first career start, the first player to steal four bases successfully in his first start since 1920, according to Elias.

Hamilton, baseball's most impactful September call-up, has been used mostly as a pinch-runner. He was a perfect 9 for 9 in stolen-base attempts entering Friday.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he has witnessed such speed before. The Oakland A's signed world-class sprinter Herb Washington to be a designated runner in 1974. Washington played 105 games without batting, appearing exclusively as a pinch runner. He stole 31 bases over two seasons.

“This is a similar situation,” Hurdle said. “But it's not like he's just a track star out there trying to run. This is a baseball player that can steal bases.”

Hurdle said the Pirates coaches, pitchers and infielders met this week to put together a plan to slow down Hamilton.

“We've got videotape. We studied it,” Hurdle said. “We spent an afternoon breaking some things down. We have a Triple-A staff that saw (Hamilton) repeatedly. They had some success in using different techniques. We have a program put together. We'll have to see how it plays out.”

The problem with any plan to slow Hamilton is simple math.

Hamilton's speed from first move to second base during three of his steals against the Astros was 3.1 seconds, which is too fast for even the combination of a pitcher who is quick to home working with an above-average throwing catcher.

Hamilton already has impacted two games for the Reds this month. Hamilton pinch ran, stole second and scored the winning run against the Cardinals on Sept. 3 and the Dodgers on Sept. 7. Hamilton's impact is one reason Hurdle dislikes baseball's expanded rosters in September.

“I've never gone ‘Yay for September call-ups,' ” Hurdle said. “But it's a dynamic that they've got.”

Grilli ready for more

Jason Grilli's velocity is slightly down from his pre-injury form, and he has allowed four runs in five September innings, but he points out the strikeouts have been there. He said Friday he's ready to return to a higher-leverage role, if needed.

“I'm always ready for that. That's what I was asked to do initially,” Grilli said. “I know people probably want to ask, ‘Do you want to be the closer?' I want to do my job. Whatever that description is I want to do that. It's easier to do your job and be successful when you know what that job is.”

Asked if he'd like to have closure on his role going forward, Grilli said, “I have my closure.”

Hurdle has said he'd like to return Grilli to the closer role but declined to address when he'll finalize bullpen roles.

He said it

Reds manager Dusty Baker on the Pirates' success: “They're like Tampa. When you're picking first or second for a number of years, you're supposed to come up with something.”

A little help, anyone?

Hurdle did not express outrage when asked about the Padres not assisting Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez, who fell into the visitor's dugout while making a catch Thursday.

“A few of those guys weren't paying attention. The other truth be told is you see a big man like that coming toward the dugout there's probably a few that got out of the way,” Hurdle said. “There just didn't happen to be somebody to step in between.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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