Reds need Votto, Hamilton to shake loose

By HAL McCOY

There is a promotional message currently running on the MLB Network featuring Billy Hamilton.

There is a close-up of his face as he takes a lead off first base and he says, “I’m about to steal second base.” Then he does it and there is another close-up and he says, “Should I try for third?”

And it ends with Hamilton saying to the camera and aiming his comment to the in-studio commentators, “Save that one for the highlights tonight.”

CHICAGO CUBS PITCHER Jason Hammel probably saw that promo more than a few times, because MLB plays it over and over.

So when Hammel walked Hamilton to start Thursday night’s game in Wrigley Field he promptly picked Hamilton off first base.

Yes, Hamilton was about to steal second base, but it won’t be on the highlights and he had no opportunity to steal third.

This isn’t to say that had Hamilton not been picked off the Cincinnati Reds might have Thursday’s game. After all, they lost by 8-1.

Had Hamilton not been picked off and had he stolen second who knows how that might have affected Hamme?. Everybody knows what usually happens when Hamilton and his speed of Mercury get on base.

And would you believe that through the first nine games Hamilton has stolen one base? One? He has only tried once. Of course, a lot of that has to do with getting on base, a malaise that has followed Hamilton the past 2 ½ years like a pet puppy on a leash.

That, of course, is a product of a .174 batting average and a .321 on-base average.

THERE IS ANOTHER amazing number that is attached to the team’s best player and that number is not even a number. It’s 0, as in zero.

That’s the number of extra base hits accumulated so far by Joey Votto. No doubles, no triples and no home runs.

What makes it more scalp-scratching is that during spring training they couldn’t get Votto out and he sprayed the baseball all over the place.

Just shows you what spring training numbers really mean.

Nobody expects Hamilton not to steal bases and nobody expects Votto to be at .242 with no extra base hits for very long. But they both need to get it out of neutral and into overdrive as soon as possible.

THE REDS ARE REELING right now after a three-game dose of reality in Chicago, three straight losses to the Chicago Cubs.

Does this prove anything? Not this early in the season, other than the Cubs are something special. They make the opposing pitchers throw strikes and they lead the league in walks. And their pitchers throw strikes and lead the league in fewest walks. And there isn’t an easy out in the batting order, top to bottom. Even starting pitchers John Lackey and Jason Hammel drove in runs with hits against the Reds.

Former Reds/Mets/Dodgers/Orioles manager Davey Johnson always liked to say, “You are never as good as you look when you are on a winning streak and you are never as bad as you look on a losing streak.”

That might apply to the Reds. Were they as good as they looked when they started 5-and-2? Probably not. Are they as bad as they look right now after losing three straight? Probably not.

THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS lost their first three games of the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates and everybody knows they aren’t that bad. They’ve won five of their last six.

The Pittsburgh Pirates won their first three but have lost five of their last seven and everybody knows they aren’t that bad.

What does all this mean in the long haul? Not much. It’s early, unless you are the Minnesota Twins (0-9) or the Atlanta Braves (0-9). Just remember this one — wins (and losses) count the same in April as they do in September.

IT DOESN’T GET any easier for the Reds this weekend — three games in St. Louis. And they are sending rookie/journeyman Tim Melville against the Cardinals tonight, Brandon Finnegan on Saturday and good ol’ TBA on Sunday. Most likely Jon Moscot will come off the disabled list to pitch Sunday. And his one-game minor league rehab start was not pretty.

As expected, the Reds bullpen is in disarray, especially closer J.J. Hoover. After giving up a grand slam home run to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte to blow a save, Hoover was pretty much inactive because there haven’t been many save situations.

He wasn’t in a game for four days when manager Bryan Price brought him into Thursday’s game with the Reds trailing the Cubs, 3-0. He was put in because he needed work.

He retired one batter. He walked three, he gave up three hits, he was charged with four earned runs.

As one man put it, “The only thing Hoover can close is the door behind him when he leaves.” That’s a bit harsh, but it is clear some major adjustments will be needed soon in the bullpen.

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