CINCINNATI -- Reds manager Dusty Baker knows that every day when he posts his lineup, it's quickly dissected by the masses. He doesn't care about the criticism he may face on a given day, but before the series finale against the Mets, Baker joked that nobody would question Wednesday's lineup.
That's because speedy center fielder and fan favorite Billy Hamilton was at the top of the order for the third start of his young Major League career. Although Hamilton has played in just 11 games as a big leaguer, Baker hasn't been at all hesitant to put the 23-year-old rookie in the leadoff spot.
"That's what he's done all his life," Baker said. "No. 1 tool is hopefully you can run. No. 2 is hopefully you can get on base to run."
Not surprisingly, Hamilton has excelled at the running aspect, going a perfect 13-for-13 on steal attempts entering Wednesday. Getting on base hasn't been much of a problem either, as Hamilton started his career by going 6-for-14 with a pair of walks.
Hamilton has also proven he isn't afraid of big moments. Though much of that has to do with Hamilton's confidence, Baker said it's also partly a result of the way he's been handled.
"I broke him in slowly," Baker said. "I didn't just throw him out there. [We] gave him time to work out, gave him time to feel like he belongs. [The] toughest part about being in the big leagues is feeling like you belong. The guys on our team have made him feel comfortable. Guys have accepted him big time, and he's easy to accept."
With Hamilton batting leadoff and playing center, Shin-Soo Choo moved over to left field and into the two-hole. As versatile as they come in the outfield, Choo can also be effective anywhere in the lineup.
"A hitter's a hitter," Baker said. "He hit all over the place in Cleveland. He wasn't just a leadoff man. If you can hit, you can hit, and Choo can hit. It's just that I don't want to waste Billy Hamilton batting him second."
Second bullpen has Cingrani aiming for Pittsburgh
CINCINNATI -- Reds pitcher Tony Cingrani threw his second successful bullpen session in the last three days on Wednesday, and the 24-year-old left-hander could soon be back on the mound pitching in an actual game.
"Today was the next step in getting him ready for the next step," pitching coach Bryan Price said of Cingrani. "And that might be pitching him in the Pittsburgh series [this weekend]. Certainly not starting -- our rotation is set right now -- but I think it'd be nice to get him into a game. Just got to wait and see how he comes out of today's throwing session."
On Monday, Cingrani pitched off a mound without issues for the first time since he left a Sept. 10 start after just 1 2/3 innings with lower back soreness. He was back at it Wednesday, throwing 32 pitches and looking impressive while doing so.
"[That was] probably as well as he's thrown mechanically in several months," Price said. "He's been feeling really good. Most important, I think he's been able to identify where the issues have come from physically, and [he] has satisfied those issues and is back throwing the ball the way he can."
Cingrani's back first started acting up in August, and he eventually hit the disabled after going just 3 2/3 innings on Aug. 20 against the D-backs. He made two starts after his 15 days on the DL, but he was forced out of action again following his Sept. 10 start against the Cubs. This time, Price believes Cingrani has put the injury behind him and won't look back.
"We thought we had gotten over the hump the last time, and we hadn't," Price said. "He was able to focus on his core strength and his hip strength. He just looked better than he has in some time."
Baker gives Ludwick day off for day game
CINCINNATI -- Despite notching his third multihit game in his last four appearances on Tuesday, Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick wasn't in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Mets. Although that's partly because manager Dusty Baker saw an opportunity to get Billy Hamilton a start, it's also because Ludwick is still dealing with the side effects of the shoulder surgery that kept him out of action most of the season.
"I got to kind of watch him, because his shoulder is so sore at times," Baker said. "This guy came off a pretty serious operation, and he's back. He probably won't be 100 percent back until next year with the winter. If your body was ever hurt, anybody who ever had an injury, sometimes you're limping, but you're not really hurting anymore."
With a night game followed by an early day game to close out the series against the Mets, Baker wanted to give Ludwick a break on Wednesday. Coupled with Thursday's off-day, that gives Ludwick two days to rest before this weekend's crucial Pirates series, which will likely determine if the Reds are going to play the National League Wild Card Game at home or on the road.
Though he didn't make the start, Ludwick was available in Wednesday's game, but Baker said he wanted to avoid having to use him.
"If he's sore playing, he's going to be more sore off the bench," Baker said. "He's an old car. You got to give him some time to warm up."
Ludwick has gone through plenty of ups and downs since making his return on Aug. 12. In 34 games (30 starts), the 35-year-old Ludwick has batted .258 with a .297 on-base percentage. He's hit two homers, driven in 12 runs and struck out 28 times.
Before going 3-for-5 on Saturday against the Pirates, Ludwick was hitless in his previous three games (0-for-12), indicating the inconsistency he's dealt with since coming back. For the most part, though, Baker has been happy with the way Ludwick has returned.
"He's doing pretty good," Baker said. "[But] he's doing not as well as he'd like to, because he's hard on himself."
With Pirates waiting, Cozart gets breather
CINCINNATI -- The time for days off for the Reds' regulars has basically come to an end, but manager Dusty Baker squeezed out one more for shortstop Zack Cozart on Wednesday.
Replaced by Cesar Izturis, Cozart had made every start since Aug. 19 before Baker gave him what will likely be his last break until the Reds are done playing in 2013.
"If I didn't give it to him today, I'm not going to give it to him against the Pirates," Baker said, referring the Reds' pivotal series against Pittsburgh this weekend. "And he's not going to get one in the playoffs. This is the day."
For the season, Cozart entered Wednesday batting .254 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs. In his string of 34 consecutive starts, he was better than those numbers, hitting .310 while drawing six walks and driving in 23 runs. Baker said the grind of playing shortstop every day was the primary reason for getting Cozart some rest, but his frequent work on the bases was also a factor.
"Usually after a hot streak comes a cold streak, because you're fatigued because you're on the bases," Baker said. "When you're cold, you're fatigued mentally, because all you're doing is a right turn and sit down."
Reds set new single-season attendance mark
Though the Reds suffered a devastating loss on Wednesday, fans still had something to celebrate.
With a crowd of 26,223 on hand to watch a 1-0 loss to the Mets, the Reds set a new single-season attendance record at Great American Ball Park, drawing a total of 2,371,103 fans in 2013. That broke the previous mark of 2,355,259, set in the stadium's inaugural season in 2003.
"We are very grateful to our fans for attending in record-breaking numbers," Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini said in a statement. "And we are anxious to see how much we can grow the final attendance number by packing the park for all three games of the Pirates series this weekend to finish the regular season."
As a personal thank you, members of the Reds' front office were positioned at the gates following Wednesday's game to show their gratitude to fans for helping to break the record.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.