Friday, May 21, 1999
Hammonds get his chance at RF
3-homer game catapults him ahead of Young, Tucker
BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SAN DIEGO Having shuffled his right fielders all season, manager Jack McKeon has turned up Jeffrey Hammonds' card.
Jeffrey Hammonds had 3 HR's and scored five times Wednesday.
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Hammonds will receive an opportunity tonight at Qualcomm Stadium to strengthen his bid for a regular role when the Reds (19-18) begin a three-game series against the San Diego Padres. He earned his shot with his three-homer performance in Wednesday's 24-12 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
Heck, the guy had a big day, McKeon said Thursday as the Reds enjoyed a scheduled day off. He's going to play the next two days.
Said Hammonds: There's a lot more season left. I haven't lost sight of what lies in front of the Cincinnati Reds. I'm just a part of this team, and hopefully by the end of the year, I can be an integral part.
McKeon has spent most of the season alternating Dmitri Young and Michael Tucker in right field, hoping one of them would establish enough consistency to warrant everyday activity. Hammonds was in the background of this mix, having started seven games in right (besides two in center field) to Young's 17 and Tucker's 13. Since May 2, none has started more than two games in a row.
I like all the guys we have out there, McKeon said. I'm waiting for one of them to step forward and say, "I want it.' And eventually someone will.
When the season opened, the position seemed to belong to Young, who hit .310 last year. When Young faltered, the next alternative was Tucker, whose impressive yet simmering skills have long tantalized baseball executives, including Reds General Manager Jim Bowden.
Quietly waiting was Hammonds, who struggled with a .108 batting average until Tuesday. Then the right-handed hitter played a major part in helping Cincinnati extend its winning streak to five games. He ended a 1-for-20 skid by lining a game-tying single Tuesday night before becoming the fifth player this season to belt three homers in a game. Hammonds went 4-for-6 Wednesday while scoring five runs and driving in five.
Hammonds made a bold statement with his career-best effort. Now he must produce to stay in the lineup.
If you try to go 3-for-3 every day, you're in trouble. Do the little things, McKeon said. If you (bat with) a guy on second base, you move him over. It's like I tell most of these guys: If you're winning and a guy's not hitting but he's doing the little things to win games, you're not going to take him out.
Hammonds' emergence wouldn't be a surprise. Stardom awaited him after Baltimore made him the fourth overall selection in the 1992 amateur draft. But he endured a succession of injuries that limited him to an average of 81 games between 1994-98. Having exhausted its patience with Hammonds, Baltimore traded him to the Reds on Aug.10 for third baseman Willie Greene.
When you're injured, you feel like you have to make up for lost time, said Hammonds, who's batting .205. I was trying to do too much.
That's exactly what McKeon has said all season about Young, the Opening Day starter who was expected to be at the heart of a robust offense. While Cincinnati's hitting has started to improve, Young's hasn't. He's batting .173 with one homer and six RBI in 75 at-bats.
Adversity hasn't affected Young's attitude. When Hammonds returned to the dugout after his third homer, Young was one of his most enthusiastic greeters. He jokes about being a guinea pig when he faces rehabilitating pitchers Mark Wohlers or Stan Belinda in early batting practice.
As a professional, you have to take the good with the bad, Young said. Stuff like that (playing time) is out of my control. The only thing I can control is I'm going to continue to work, take my early fly balls and grounders at first base, early batting practice, whatever it takes ... I'm just going to stay ready. That's one thing they can't take away from me.
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