Outlook: Hamilton's speed should help him in 2013

DENVER -- Anticipation continues to build around the likely callups the Reds will add when rosters expand Sunday, and Billy Hamilton, rated the club's No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, is at the center of the buzz.

As manager Dusty Baker points out, however, the combined half dozen players targeted to join the roster Sunday in Denver and Monday at home in Cincinnati are not likely to get an abundance of time in the lineup.

"Hamilton's here to help us win," Baker said of the Mississippi-born infielder-turned-outfielder who has led five leagues in steals in four Minor League seasons. "However we think he can most help the team. I was a September callup three times. I didn't play much."

Hamilton, 22, set a professional baseball record with 155 steals in 192 attempts over 132 games last season, splitting his time between Class A and Double-A. He is hitting .256 at Triple-A Louisville this season, with a league-best 75 steals in 90 attempts, 33 three more than his closest competition.

"I was impressed with the young man in Spring Training, and I followed him during the year," Baker said. "It looks like he improved. I'll use him as I see fit. He's not going to be Herb Washington. I can use him a lot of places, especially when we lack speed. One thing we lack, we lack speed. He can pinch-run for about half the guys on the team."

Washington was essentially a designated runner for the Oakland A's in 1974 and 1975. He played 105 games, scored 33 runs and stole 31 bases in 48 attempts. He never had a plate appearance, despite making it to two postseason rosters.

While Washington was a world-class college sprinter who came to the A's with a single skill in his tool bag, Hamilton is a well-rounded player who has shown he can get on base with his bat and handle both the infield and outfield with his glove.

"He's going to be Herb Washington sometimes," Baker said. "But he can play defense. I can use him as a pinch-hitter, especially to lead off an inning."

If the Reds were out of contention, Hamilton might see more action to test his big league mettle, but with the Reds in a pennant race, contenders for first in their division and holding a Wild Card spot on the last day of August, Hamilton is not about to bump a starter out of the lineup. He can certainly help the Reds, and the experience should be good for him come the 2014 season, when he will compete for a spot on the roster.

"I was in that position three times before I got to stick to the big leagues," Baker said of the nature of September callups. "I've been where he's been. The experience of being here and learning here puts you on an accelerated curve for once you get here. The hardest thing about being here is feeling like you belong. Once you get past the lights, past the lifestyle and everything -- from Mississippi to the big leagues is a long ways."

Embracing new start, Duke solid in Reds debut

PHI@WSH: Duke escapes a bases-loaded jam in the sixth

DENVER -- Left-hander Zach Duke made his Reds debut Friday night, throwing 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the Reds' 9-6 loss to the Rockies. He gave up three hits and struck out two, shutting down the Rockies and cutting down an eighth-inning rally with Rockies slugger Todd Helton at the plate.

"He went a little further than I wanted him to go," manager Dusty Baker said Saturday. "He's probably not available today. We didn't want to go through our whole bullpen. That's something you don't want to happen, especially starting a series here in Colorado."

Duke came out after striking out the left-handed Helton with runners on second and third. Helton hit three-run homers against starter Bronson Arroyo and reliever Logan Ondrusek and was poised for a third -- which would have been his 2,500th career hit -- when facing Duke. He worked the count full, but Duke sent him back to the bench swinging at a 91-mph fastball.

"Duke looked good," Baker said. "On other teams that I was on, we didn't hit him very well. I couldn't figure out why he left Pittsburgh. Washington released him, and we picked him up."

The Reds have done well with castoffs from other clubs, and Duke is poised to continue the tradition. He was released by the Nationals after a rough three months in their bullpen but found his form again in Louisville.

"Probably 20 percent of our team is six-year free agents, guys who've been released, and guys that get a fresh start with us," Baker said. "Hopefully he can contribute."

When things did not happen as quickly as Duke hoped with the Reds, he took the opportunity to test the waters, asking for his release Aug. 3, then re-signing 10 days later.

"I opted out," Duke explained. "I figured I'd see what else was out there, and it turned out nothing else was out there. The Reds were gracious enough to take me back."

Worth noting

• Baker was asked about his pitching moves by a young fan during Friday night's series opener.

"He asked if I was going to use [Aroldis] Chapman," Baker said. "The score was 9-3 [Rockies], but he came here to see Chapman. I said, 'I hope so, son.'"

The Reds' closer has not had a save opportunity in a week, striking out the side last Saturday to wrap up the 6-3 win against Milwaukee. It was his 33rd save of the season and brought his total to 90 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings.