CINCINNATI -- As many wonder why the Reds keep Billy Hamilton in the starting lineup as he struggles to hit and the center fielder himself considers giving up switch-hitting, Sunday's game vs. the Cardinals underscored the reason: Hamilton's speed changes a game.
In a 6-3 win over the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park, Hamilton created two runs for Cincinnati at the plate and his defense took at least one away from St. Louis. That -- and a season-high 11 walks -- helped the Reds snap a 13-game losing streak against the Cardinals.
"That's why he's so important," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "With all due respect to everybody else that goes out there, nobody else can do the things that he does -- and I mean throughout the league. It was just really special. … He was on display today."
Leading off the third inning against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez as the Reds trailed, 2-0, Hamilton lifted a ball through the gap in left field, and turned on the afterburners to third base for a triple. According to Statcast™, his sprint speed was 30.6 feet per second. Hamilton scored on Scott Schebler's groundout to second base.
"Where he hit that ball, you don't see that many triples to left-center. Right-center is where the triples go," Riggleman noted about the cozy confines of the ballpark.
In the fourth inning, Hamilton worked a two-out walk from Martinez. He then took off on a ball-four wild pitch to Schebler and went from first base to third base without stopping. Once again, his speed was a force as Statcast™ tracked him running at 31.2 feet per second. That's more than a foot per second over the 30-feet-per-second threshold, which is considered elite.
Hamilton scored the tying run on Tucker Barnhart's RBI single to set up the decisive four-run rally that gave Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani his first victory since Sept. 28, 2016.
"I feel like it was a big win overall," Hamilton said. "Everybody played well -- defensively and offensively. Disco did a really good job on the mound. The bullpen guys came in and did their job. As a whole today, I felt like we all contributed on some part."
In his second start since returning from the disabled list after missing all of 2017, DeSclafani gave up three runs (two earned) and 10 hits over five-plus innings, with two walks and six strikeouts.
Despite a good afternoon, DeSclafani spent a lot of time working out of jams. He gave up two singles in the second inning, but struck out the side. He faced the most trouble in the third inning, when a bases-loaded single by Marcell Ozuna went off the left-field wall -- and Jesse Winker's glove. Initially, an out was called, but it was overturned on review. Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly made it a 2-0 game.
"That's a lot of battling throughout a game," said DeSclafani, who came back after a strained left oblique sustained in March. "You're not giving yourself a good chance to succeed giving up that many hits. It's definitely something to build on."
Hamilton's first superb defensive play of the day ended the first inning, when he raced to cut off a Jose Martinez liner in the left-center-field gap and threw out Martinez trying to stretch the hit into a double. His second stellar defensive play bailed out DeSclafani in the fourth. Following a two-out single by Carlos Martinez, Matt Carpenter hit a double to right-center field that Hamilton just missed with a dive. After the ball kicked off his glove and rolled away, Hamilton was able to retrieve it and get Martinez at the plate with a one-hop throw to Barnhart.
"I could have just been mad and let the ball roll and not get to it in time to let him score," Hamilton said. "But I knew I didn't make the play. I was already mad about not making the play. For me, just getting the ball and getting it in to save a run was big. Every day for me, I'm going to give 100 percent out there."
DeSclafani called plays like that "fun to watch," but defensive plays like that, for pitchers like him who give up a lot of contact, are serious business, as well.
"He's definitely saved my butt a couple of times out there today and previously, and I'm sure he will again down the road," DeSclafani said. "As a pitcher, it helps build momentum into an inning. If he makes a great play for Out 1, you've kind of snuck away with an out right there if he's making a diving catch or robbing a home run."
In the eighth and ninth innings, Hamilton also made leaping catches at the fence to take away hits from the Cardinals. Those two late outs helped Jared Hughes work two scoreless innings in relief for his fourth save, with closer Raisel Iglesias getting an extra day of rest.
"That's what it's been about for me the whole time -- catching the balls out there when I get a chance to," Hamilton said. "I tell the pitcher: If it's anywhere inside the park, and I can get to it, I'm making the effort to get to it. That's why they trust me out there."
Hamilton is batting .193./287/.284 in 62 games this season. He's been batting ninth, behind the pitcher, since Riggleman took over from Bryan Price as manager in April. Before Sunday's game, he talked about simplifying things mentally and clearing his thoughts in the batter's box.
"I've been through slumps like this before. I've also came out of slumps like this," Hamilton said. "Once I get out of my head -- and I hope today is one of those days where I can get out of my head -- and not think about anything, just going up there like, 'It's me and you.' Just me and the pitcher and not worry about mechanics and not worry about any type of thing. Just go up there and relax and hit."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gennett comes through: Scooter Gennett made outs with two men on in both the first and third innings. But after a Joey Votto walk in the fourth, Gennett delivered with a two-run single to right field. Eugenio Suarez added an RBI single to left to give the Reds a 5-2 lead. Suarez's 48 RBIs lead the National League, while Gennett is ranked second with 47.
"The first two at-bats weren't too good," Gennett said. "[Martinez] is a really good pitcher. He's got really good stuff. You mix that with Yadi behind the plate and the way he calls the game and catches the ball, it can be tough. It can be a grind up there. We were able to take advantage of key situations."
HE SAID IT
"He's great. He's making the [plays] expected of him. When that ball is hit and he doesn't catch it, it's like, 'What happened?' That's a good thing. He's very valuable and he's a game-changer when he's on and doing his thing and able to get out there and play. We're just really fortunate to have him." -- Gennett, on Hamilton's defense
"He gets to some plays that most people don't get to. He is a good defender. The throw he made was great, too." -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, also on Hamilton
MITEL REPLAYS OF THE DAY
Ozuna gets a hit: St. Louis' early lead came with the help of replay review. The Cardinals had the bases loaded in the top of the third inning when Ozuna lifted the ball towards the left-field wall. It initially appeared that Winker made a nice leaping catch before throwing to second base for an inning-ending double play. But after the Cardinals challenged the call on the field, replay review showed Winker caught the ball on a carom off the wall, and the call was overturned, giving Ozuna an RBI single.
Safe at third base: Hamilton was on first base after a two-out walk in the fourth inning when Martinez threw a wild pitch on ball four to Schebler. As the ball got away, Molina was too casual in retrieving it behind the plate. Hamilton didn't stop running until he slid headfirst into third base. The call was challenged by the Cardinals, but stood upon review. Matheny seemed to think Molina thought the ball hit Schebler.
The Reds resume Interleague Play with a two-game series vs. the Royals in Kansas City at 8:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Riggleman doesn't love the designated hitter, but will likely use it to give partial rests to regular players. Sal Romano will start for Cincinnati and try to turn things around. Romano has a 10.72 ERA over his last five starts, having given up 27 earned runs over the stretch of 22 2/3 innings. Ian Kennedy will pitch for the Royals.