9/11/2013 1:06 P.M. ET
Hamilton calls first at-bats of career 'fun'
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- With the Reds on the wrong end of a 9-1 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday, top prospect Billy Hamilton finally got a chance to do something besides pinch-run. Hamilton played the final three innings in center field for Shin-Soo Choo, going 0-for-2 at the plate.
Teammates had simple advice for Hamilton before he stepped into the batters' box for the first time in the bottom of the seventh.
"Before I went in there, they were just like, 'Breathe, that's the main thing.' That helped me out a lot," Hamilton said. "Of course, I was a little bit nervous, but not as nervous as I thought I'd be."
Hamilton lined out to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro in the seventh and grounded out to short in the ninth. He also just missed robbing Welington Castillo of a homer at the wall in the top of the seventh.
"Last night was pretty fun," Hamilton said. "I had a good time, especially the first at-bat. It always means something, even if you don't get a hit out of it. I was excited about it."
Cueto's second live session encouraging
CINCINNATI -- Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto moved another step closer to returning for his club's final stretch run on Wednesday, when he faced hitters in his second live batting-practice session.
Cueto threw 60 pitches to hitters Neftali Soto, Derrick Robinson, Jack Hannahan and Henry Rodriguez.
"He was throwing pretty good," Reds manager Dusty Baker said after watching the session. "It's not surprising to me. He's so mechanically sound. He tired a little bit at the end, which was to be expected. It's a matter of endurance. His velocity was still pretty good."
Of course, the question begs: What's next?
"I don't know," Baker said. "We'll have to see how he comes out of this one. We're trying to be optimistically cautious."
The Reds have every reason to be deliberate. Cueto was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the third time this season on June 29 with a strained right lat muscle. The injury has cropped back two previous times, even when all appeared to be going well. Cueto didn't feel he was coming back too quick and reported no issues.
"I feel good. I don't feel anything," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera.
Cueto threw an assortment of pitches, both from the windup and stretch.
"I was trying to go more in the stretch than the windup, because I don't have the feel yet," Cueto said. "So I'm trying to do that, and there's a possibility I will make some changes later."
As for the windup, Cueto stayed with the twisting motion that has him turning his back to the hitter. The club's medical staff did not believe that was the source of his previous injuries.
"It's just a little different," Cueto said. "The difference is, I stay more in front when I decide to do the whole turn. That way, I can do it better."
Indications had been that the Reds might initially use Cueto in a relief role rather than putting him back in the rotation. But the club is still going over its options, which had a wrench thrown in the works when Cueto's replacement -- Tony Cingrani -- had a relapse of back trouble and left his Tuesday start after only 1 2/3 innings in Cincinnati's 9-1 loss to Chicago. Wednesday's 60-pitch session could be a sign that starting is still possible.
Since joining the Reds organization, Cueto has had no big league relief appearances, but did pitch 16 times in relief in the Minors and the Dominican Summer League, though none since 2005. He was prepared to be flexible about his role.
"It's whatever they want," Cueto said. "I'll do it the way they want me to do it."
Cingrani's back injury has Reds pondering
CINCINNATI -- The Reds were still trying to determine their course of action with lefty starter Tony Cingrani, who was forced to exit his Tuesday start against the Cubs after 1 2/3 innings because of back spasms. It was a similar injury to the lower back strain that caused him to miss two starts at the end of last month.
"We're trying to decide whether he goes on the road with us initially or if he stays back here for therapy and to see the chiropractor and all that stuff," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I like the guys to come with us down the stretch as soon as they can so they can feel the intensity of the pennant race. It's different than anything they have ever experienced, even if they went to the College World Series or here and there."
As for the rotation, the Reds have Cingrani's next turn on Tuesday in Houston listed as TBA. The club has the next three Thursdays off before the end of the regular season, which means the order of assignments could be juggled and Cingrani can be skipped. Cincinnati has six of its final nine games against Pittsburgh.
"We haven't decided," Baker said. "You have to decide which guys pitch better with extra days. Some guys pitch worse. We'll let you know. I know you want to know all of this in advance, but we can't give it to you. It's subject to change, because it depends on where we are in the standings and a lot of stuff. That's what you can do with the off-days. You can change stuff around."