Around the fifth inning, rookie Billy Hamilton starts getting loose.
He knows his role, and so far he has executed it perfectly. The Cincinnati Reds employ this 23-year-old outfielder as a baserunning specialist, a missile with legs to fire when they need a runner in scoring position.
"That's what I'm here for," Hamilton said before a game Friday between the Reds and Pirates at PNC Park. "I feel like my first few times doing it, I did my job. My main thing was to try to get them to have a little confidence in me, knowing I can do it."
In eight games since he joined the Reds after rosters expanded in September, Hamilton has stolen nine bases without being caught. He did not have a plate appearance in his first four games, instead entering as a pinch-runner. The Reds insert him late in close games when a run will make the difference.
In Hamilton's major league debut Sept. 3, he pinch-ran for Ryan Ludwick in the seventh inning of a scoreless tie with the St. Louis Cardinals. He promptly stole second base, then scored on a double. The Reds won, 1-0.
After Ludwick walked in the 10th inning Sept. 7 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 3-3 tie, Hamilton pinch-ran and stole second. A single drove him home for the walk-off win.
"You can't teach someone how to be fast, and he's just lightning fast," said Jeff Locke, who will start Sunday.
Hamilton stole 155 bases in the minors in 2012, a record for professional baseball, and was successful on 81 percent of his attempts. For Hamilton, a lithe 6 feet and 160 pounds, his speed is only part of his success.
"You really got to watch the pitchers," he said. "You got to know what type of move they have and how big of a lead to get."
Despite his speed, Hamilton had only a .308 on-base percentage with Louisville this season, his first foray into Class AAA, and a .256 average.
"From the offensive side I tried to get on base a lot more, tried to put the ball in play and not strike out as much," he said. "I feel like I improved on that."
Hamilton reminded Pirates manager Clint Hurdle of Herb Washington, a specialty runner for the Oakland Athletics who appeared in 105 games and stole 31 bases in his two-year career in 1974-75, without receiving a plate appearance.
"We spent an afternoon in there, breaking some things down," Hurdle said. "We've got a [Class AAA] staff that played a volume of games against their [Class AAA] team and saw [Hamilton] repeatedly. They had some success in different techniques, whether it be at first or second or combat the deal at third."
One manner of prevention: Don't allow a situation where he would enter the game to occur.
"We'll take procedures to try to cut [the steals] down, but he's got to get on base first and then we'll worry about him," Locke said.
Hit by pitch
The Pirates and Reds have gone tit for tat in hit batsmen dating to2012, but in a tight race with eight games remaining, each additional baserunner -- or ejected pitcher -- becomes more important.
Reds manager Dusty Baker, though, had not given the issue any thought.
"Both clubs pitch inside," Baker said. "Sometimes the hitters don't know how to get out of the way of the pitch."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.