The Reds called up Billy Hamilton — one of professional baseball's fastest players — on Monday to help them try to catch the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.
Cincinnati promoted the 22-year-old outfielder and infielder Neftali Soto from Triple-A Louisville before the opener of a four-game series against St. Louis. The Reds also reinstated catcher Corky Miller from the 15-day disabled list. Miller had been sidelined by a bruised thigh.
The defending NL Central champions were in third place heading into Monday's game, 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and Pirates, who were tied for first.
It's Hamilton's first promotion to the majors. Last year, he set a professional baseball single-season record by stealing 175 bases in Class A and Double-A. He was promoted to Triple-A for the first time this season and stole 75 bases - he was caught 15 times - while batting .256 in 123 games.
''Just run bases, play defense - whatever they need me for, I'm here,'' Hamilton said.
He'll get a chance to show the speed on the bases that made him such a standout in the minors. The Reds considered calling him up in September last season, but decided he wasn't ready to play in the majors. After a season at Triple-A, they figured it was time to let him get acclimated to the majors and maybe even put his speed to work on the bases.
''Billy is not the focal point here,'' manager Dusty Baker said. ''The focal point is us to win the division and hopefully on to the World Series. We hope that he can help us in some small or large way.''
The Reds envision Hamilton eventually playing center field and batting leadoff, a role currently occupied by Shin-Soo Choo. The Reds moved Hamilton from shortstop to center field this season. He had seven errors while adapting more quickly than expected.
''When I first got out there, I thought it was going to take a couple of years to get used to it a little bit,'' Hamilton said. ''I got there, I learned a lot from (former Reds center fielder Eric Davis) and guys who have been playing. It came along pretty well.
''It's a lot of running out there. It's fun.''
Hamilton played in an exhibition game featuring minor league stars at Great American Ball Park last year. When he walked into the clubhouse on Monday and saw his No. 6 jersey hanging in the last locker at the entrance to the clubhouse, he was momentarily overwhelmed.
''It was crazy, man,'' he said. ''It's like coming from the minor leagues to something like this is really nice. When I first walked in, I was kind of shocked - like an amazed thing. It's fun to be here, man. Just looking forward to being around the guys more and learning more.''