GOODYEAR, Ariz. — As Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio put it earlier this spring, the Cubs are “unleashing” Jason Hammel on opponents.
But as Hammel and the Cubs learned quickly Sunday, they’re not the only ones in the rugged National League Central unleashing something new and dangerous on the rest of the division.
Meet Billy Hamilton, the Cincinnati Reds’ rookie leadoff man.
Hammel did Sunday, and he walked him to start the game.
“Did him a favor right away,” Hammel said. “I’m going to try not to do that in the season.”
Hamilton, who had 395 stolen bases in barely four minor-league seasons, waited out Hammel until taking off on a two-strike pitch to Zack Cozart. Hamilton stole second easily as Cozart swung for strike three and catcher Welington Castillo mishandled the exchange and had no throw.
Next pitch: Hamilton stole third well ahead of Castillo’s throw.
“He was fast,” said Hammel, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and completed three scoreless innings. “He stole third base on me. I felt like I was pretty quick. I was slide-stepping at first, and he didn’t really go. I don’t know what kind of jump he got [on the first one]. But I felt like we held him pretty good there.
“But then he stole third base off me. That was pretty simple for him.”
Hamilton, who was 13-for-14 on stolen-base attempts after a September call-up last year, replaces departed free agent Shin-Soo Choo as the Reds’ leadoff man.
“Obviously, he’s going to be a threat,” Hammel said.