BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
If Friday was Blaze shortstop Billy Hamilton's final game in Bakersfield, it didn't take long for him to make an impact.
Hamilton singled to lead off the first, stole his 104th base despite a pitchout by Stockton, took third on a balk and scored on Theo Bowe's single to center field to give the Blaze a 1-0 lead six pitches into the game.
There was plenty of conjecture Friday that Hamilton's next regular season game would be Monday -- in Pensacola, Fla., for the Cincinnati Reds' Class AA team in the Southern League.
No one officially said Hamilton was leaving Bakersfield for good after Friday's game. But Hamilton told KBAK Channel 29 that he was being promoted.
Today, Hamilton will fly to Kansas City, Mo., to play in Sunday's Futures Game, an annual contest played at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game site that features the top minor league prospects from every big league organization.
Members of Cincinnati's player development department could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon to discuss Hamilton's status.
As of Friday night, Hamilton had a return ticket to Bakersfield following the Futures Game.
“But that can change tomorrow,” said Blaze General Manager Elizabeth Martin. “We haven’t heard anything official.”
Ronny Ortegon, Cincinnati’s roving hitting instructor who’s been working with the Blaze batters this week, didn't confirm Hamilton’s call-up but his comments indicated it was possible.
“I can't say,” Ortegon said. “I’ve been instructed not to say anything.”
In addition to leading all of organized baseball with 104 stolen bases, Hamilton came into Friday's game ranked among the California League leaders in several categories. He entered eighth in batting (.326), first in runs scored (78), first in triples (nine), second in hits (108), second in on-base percentage (.415), fifth in at-bats (331) and tied for 15th in doubles (18).
A switch-hitter, Hamilton has been very consistent from both sides of the plate, batting .324 against left-handers and .328 against right-handers.
“Yeah, I think he’s ready,” Blaze manager Ken Griffey Sr. said of Hamilton's promotion. “He's going to play. There’s no question about that.”
Didi Gregorius, rated as Cincinnati’s No. 8 prospect by Baseball America (Hamilton is No. 2), has been Pensacola’s starting shortstop. Gregorius, who hit .303 in 46 games with the Blaze last season, entered Friday batting .280 for the Blue Wahoos with one home run, 30 RBIs and two stolen bases in six attempts.
Shortstop Paul Janish, a former infielder with the parent Reds, has played 44 games for Class AAA Louisville (Ky.). Janish has struggled lately, going 4-for-40 in Louisville's last 10 games, dropping his batting average to .245.
Notes: Former Cal State Bakersfield catcher Jeremy Rodriguez is on the Lake Elsinore Storm roster as the Storm begins a three-game series against the Blaze at Sam Lynn Ballpark tonight. Rodriguez becomes the first former Roadunner to play a professional game in Bakersfield. He holds CSUB's career records in hits (190), on-base percentage (.428), walks (83) and runs scored (114). He was a 16th-round draft pick by San Diego in June, 2011. ... Tonight is George Culver bobblehead night, with the first 500 fans attending tonight’s game receiving a bobble head. Game time is 7:45.