Reds’ Winker is happy leading off

April 2, 2018 GMT

CINCINNATI — Third in the order usually is where a team’s best hitter bats.

That’s where Joey Votto hits for the Cincinnati Reds. It’s where Jesse Winker has hit all his life. Winker, a Reds rookie outfielder, isn’t going to displace the all-star Votto, so he said he’s pleased just to get in the lineup. That Winker, 24, hit lead-off the first two games of the season shows how highly manager Bryan Price and the Reds organization thinks of the 2012 Compensation Round pick who in Triple-A last season homered twice, drove in 41 runs and batted .314 with a .395 on base percentage and .408 slugging percentage.

“Leadoff, third or fifth, it doesn’t matter to me,” Winker said of where he hits. “I look forward to leading off games and getting better. An at bat is an at bat. The first pitch is where it’s different, but the more I do it, the more comfortable I’ll get.”

Billy Hamilton led off 135 of the Reds’ games last season and when the speedster reached base he wreaked havoc. Getting on base is the problem. Hamilton reached base at a .299 clip last season and has a .297 on base percentage for his career. The average big leaguer reached base at a .324 pace in 2017. In part because of that, Hamilton batted ninth on Opening Day, a move Price said isn’t permanent but could be seen more often.

By leading off, a hitter doesn’t acquire the advantage of being able to ask a previous batter how and what the pitcher is throwing. Winker said he doesn’t consider that to be a problem.

“If I have to ask what a guy is throwing, I haven’t done my homework,” Winker said. “If I have to ask, I haven’t studied the scouting reports. My job is to know know what a pitcher’s got before the game even starts. If I don’t know what he has, I haven’t done my research.”

Winker went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk on Opening Day, facing Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and veteran reliever Ryan Madson. On Saturday, Winker was better, going 2 for 4 with a walk, a strike out and a run scored.

On Opening Day, Winker and Hamilton collided in left-center field to catch a fly ball off the bat of Washington’s Michael Taylor in the sixth inning. Winker, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, caught the ball as he and Hamilton, 6-foot, 160, hit the ground, but the play could have been disastrous. One or both players could have been injured. Also, Winker’s catch was the third out in an inning when the bases were loaded and all three runners likely would have scored to break open a 1-0 game.

“I need to peak in,” Winker said. “That was my fault. It was super noisy. I was waving my hands, but it’s Billy’s outfield and I needed to let him make that play.”