CIN@MIL: Hamilton opens scoring with leadoff homer

PITTSBURGH -- From Andrew McCutchen to Carlos Gomez to Matt Holliday, the National League Central has no shortage of impact outfielders. Two players who are quickly traveling down that same path -- Billy Hamilton and Gregory Polanco -- met for the first time Tuesday.

Polanco debuted for the Pirates a week ago, and the 22-year-old right fielder has made an immediate impact. Through his first six games, Polanco was hitting .387 with five RBIs and a homer that proved to be the game-winner Friday night against the Marlins.

"As a fan, I'm looking forward to see him play, and hopefully we have something for him to make things a little bit more difficult than they've been so far," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Polanco.

The Reds counter with Hamilton, a 23-year-old center fielder who has a leg up on Polanco in terms of experience. Hamilton debuted for the Reds last September, but he still has his rookie status intact. And Hamilton's 63 games played entering Tuesday were the second-most among NL rookies, trailing only D-backs shortstop Chris Owings.

Like any rookie, Hamilton has dealt with some growing pains, which will probably come to Polanco at some point as well. In the first dozen games of 2014, Hamilton was hitting below .200, with an on-base percentage below .250.

But Hamilton has developed into a much more consistent leadoff hitter, raising those numbers to .264 and .301, respectively, entering Tuesday's opener vs. the Bucs. And once he's on, the lightning-quick Hamilton is always a threat to swipe a bag. He's second in the Majors with 25 steals.

"He's going to go through some tough knocks," Price said. "We just have to be patient enough to stay with it. Every time something doesn't work, it's an opportunity for him to learn from that experience. And I can't expect him to play like a veteran in his rookie year. He's not quite there yet, but he gets better every day and we're watching the evolution of a terrific player."

Hamilton and Polanco will likely have their names brought up when the discussion about the NL Rookie of the Year Award begins, and if things stay the way they are, they'll be seeing a lot of each other in the next few seasons.

Returns of Votto, Latos making life easier on Price

CIN@MIL: Latos throws six scoreless innings in return

PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Price said he was able to have a late breakfast, nap and watch TV when the Reds had an off-day on Monday. It was a day of relaxation, and the Reds' manager could enjoy it knowing he would enter this week with his lineup healthier than it's been in a while.

The injury-ridden Reds got both first baseman Joey Votto and starting pitcher Mat Latos back from the disabled list last week. Votto has rejoined the batting order seemingly without missing a beat, hitting .348 with a .901 OPS in his first six games before adding an RBI single in his first at-bat on Tuesday.

Since Votto's return, the Reds were 4-2 entering Tuesday and had scored 30 runs in their past five games -- a number greatly aided by Sunday's 13-run outburst in Milwaukee.

"We're not running out a bunch of different lineups out there," Price said. "This doesn't mean, of course, that there will never be another change in the lineup. And I think there is something to be said about knowing what is expected from you and knowing when you're going to be in there and when you're not. It's nice."

Price has been forced to move hitters all over the order due to the injuries. An example of this is third baseman Todd Frazier, who has hit in five different spots in the order (second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth), and four of those spots (all but third) at least 10 times each.

In the last week, Frazier has been the Reds' No. 2 hitter, a spot in which he started for the 17th time this season in Tuesday's opener vs. the Pirates. Frazier came into the night hitting .258 with six homers, 13 RBIs and a .930 OPS while batting second in 2014.

Regardless of where he is in the lineup, Frazier's average and on-base percentage are up more than 30 points apiece from his 2013 numbers, which is a big part of why Price feels comfortable penciling him in behind the usual leadoff hitter, speedster Billy Hamilton.

"What Todd has done so well, is he's seen more pitches and he's taking pitches to let Billy run," Price said. "I think we're seeing a more disciplined hitter, a guy who has done more damage, and I don't know if it's so much hitting second or if his hitting plan has matured."

Worth noting

• The Reds have shut out the Pirates nine times at PNC Park since 2009. It's the most of any visiting team in another team's stadium in that time frame.

• Frazier was hitting .303 with a .727 slugging percentage in the first inning this season entering Tuesday.