Reds' Billy Hamilton getting stronger for encore season

CINCINNATI (AP) Billy Hamilton set a Reds rookie record by stealing 56 bases last season, tied for second-most overall in the major leagues. He also wore down as the months wore on, with his hitting and stealing showing a big drop-off.

So the 6-foot, 160-pound outfielder is on a weight-lifting regimen this offseason, trying to make his body ready for the extra wear-and-tear of a major league season.

''This offseason I've had a chance to do stuff like that,'' Hamilton said on Thursday, before the start of the team's annual media caravan to nearby cities. ''I've been getting in the weight room. I'm not a power hitter, but I want to be stronger than last year.''

He took the National League by surprise during his first promotion in September 2013, batting .368 for the month and stealing 13 bases while getting caught only once. He's so fast that pitchers and catchers got rattled.

The 24-year-old was the starting center fielder last season and quickly recognized that teams were better prepared to stop him the second time around. He was caught stealing 23 times, the most in the National League, and repeatedly got nabbed when pitchers threw over to first in anticipation that he was running.

Lesson learned.

''The thing about being a young, confident player is feeling there's not a situation where you can't be successful,'' manager Bryan Price said on Thursday. ''Even though the percentages are always in his favor, there's going to be better opportunities to run, better pitcher-and-catcher combinations to run against.

''That will be part of his learning curve.''

He's showing that he's a quick study.

Hamilton was overmatched at the start of last season, going only 6 for 43. Once he relaxed, he got much better. Hamilton batted .250 overall in 152 games with 25 doubles, eight triples, six homers and 48 RBIs.

He wound up leading NL rookies in runs, hits, total bases, doubles, steals, extra-base hits and multi-hit games despite a second-half fade. Hamilton batted only .200 after the All-Star break with one homer and 18 steals.

''All we can do is speculate that the second half (slump) was just getting used to playing a full season in the big leagues,'' Price said. ''We want him getting stronger and getting reacquainted with the acumen of bunting and getting more balls hit on the ground and hard line drives instead of balls hit in the air.

''We're seeing the development of a young player.''

Hamilton finished second to the Mets' Jacob deGrom in voting for NL rookie of the year. Even though the season wasn't quite what he'd hoped, it gave Hamilton more confidence.

''Especially the way the season started, I felt like it was going to be a tough, tough season,'' Hamilton said. ''But I started relaxing and getting myself into it. Going into this season, I feel way better than last year. I'm way calmer and feel like I'm supposed to be here where last year it was, `Oh, oh, I don't know if I'm ready.' But right now, I'm ready.''

Hamilton has been working out in Atlanta with Delino DeShields, manager of Triple-A Louisville this season, in order to hone his bunting and get stronger. The major league season lasts about a month longer than the Triple-A season.

''I did get a little draggy,'' Hamilton said. ''I wouldn't say I completely tired out. I've got to do better than I did last year. I've been taking care of my body this offseason and getting prepared for that extra month.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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