Hamilton sticking with switch-hitting, line-drive approach

Hamilton sticking with switch-hitting, line-drive approach

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton often took advice from teammate and elite hitter Joey Votto last season. Hamilton also learned by example from watching Votto, especially when both were struggling during the first couple of months.

"When Joey wasn't going well last year, everybody was pounding him in and pounding him in," Hamilton recalled on Tuesday. "He didn't switch, and I noticed. Everybody wanted him to pull balls because they were throwing him inside. He stuck with his approach and did his thing. When you have an approach, it will work eventually."

During his three full seasons in the big leagues, Hamilton had an approach to hitting while in the cage for batting practice. He didn't take it into the games, however, including the first half of 2016, as he batted .236 with a .283 on-base percentage.

"Once the game started, if they did something other than what he wanted pitch-wise or location-wise, he'd quickly move away from what his plan was," Reds hitting coach Don Long said. "What these guys all try to do, up until two strikes, is make the pitcher a part of your plan by knowing what your strengths are and being stubborn about staying with it. Then with two strikes, extend the at-bat, battle and become a tough out. I think when he found the ability to do that, to make that transition from just doing the work, and taking the right mindset into the game and stayed with what he wanted to do, that's when things started to turn for him."

While earning back his leadoff spot, Hamilton batted .293 with a .369 on-base percentage in the second half until an oblique injury ended his season on Sept. 4.

During much of his time in the big leagues, the switch-hitting Hamilton was often frustrated when batting left-handed and nearly gave it up. Zone profile data showed he was prone to chasing pitches pounded inside and not in the strike zone.

But for the first time over a whole season, Hamilton posted better numbers hitting lefties (.275) than righties (.221)

"When you have an approach, it will work eventually," said Hamilton, who stole 58 bases. "I know the type of hitter I am, what I want to do when I get to the plate, know what I want to do in a situation and then just relax and have fun. I feel like everything has been mental and me thinking too much."

For years, Hamilton focused on hitting the ball on the ground and using his speed to beat out singles. But defenses adjusted, and corner infielders were brought in to play for the bunt and middle infielders played halfway to defend for his speed.

Long has Hamilton thinking about hitting line drives.

"Now it forced the middle infielders to make a choice -- 'Do we still play in? Because now he can hit the ball hard enough to get it by them,'" Long said. "It's not about hitting the ball on the ground. Make the misses on the ground harder and with better direction towards the six-hole up the middle. If you're early on the ball, still hit it hard to the first-base side."

Hamilton feels better than ever about his ability as a switch-hitter.

"This is the first spring in my whole career that I wanted to come in and bat left-handed," Hamilton said. "I know what type of hitter I want to be left-handed. I'm seeing the ball better. I'm really glad I stuck with it."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.