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4/4/2014 10:07 P.M. ET

Utility man Santiago gets first start

NEW YORK -- With Zack Cozart getting a night off from the Reds lineup on Friday vs. the Mets, it meant that Ramon Santiago got to make his debut for the club at shortstop.

Santiago, a 34-year-old utility infielder who made the team at the end of Spring Training as a non-roster player, batted eighth.

"I'm ready for any situation," Santiago said. "I know my role. I just have to go out there, try my best and help the team. I want to contribute to the win and not try to do too much."

Santiago became the 24th different shortstop to partner in the middle infield with second baseman Brandon Phillips since 2006.

Reds rest Hamilton until late pinch-run chance

NEW YORK -- Through his first three regular-season games, Reds center fielder and leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton was still seeking his first hit. Hamilton went 0-for-12 with six strikeouts in the Cardinals series.

That wasn't the reason that manager Bryan Price sat Hamilton, and shortstop Zack Cozart (0-for-11), for Friday's series opener vs. the Mets. Roger Bernadina started in center field while Ramon Santiago played shortstop.

"For no other reason than trying to make sure our other guys stay sharp," Price said about the lineup changes. "We had a very productive spring as far as getting these guys constant regular at-bats. I don't want them to lose that edge that they gained in the course of Spring Training."

Hamilton, who batted .327 with a .381 on-base percentage during an impressive spring that cemented his leadoff role, did enter in the top of the eighth inning as a pinch-runner, although he was caught stealing with the Reds trailing, 4-3. Before the game, Hamilton admitted to pressing at the plate since the games counted.

"I feel like I was rushing myself trying to do too much," Hamilton said. "The last game we had, I started hitting the ball more. I started breathing more. … Now I feel like I'm getting back to myself. The first two games, I was just trying to get a hit and not letting it come to me. [It was] like 'I had to get a hit. I have to do this.'"

Hamilton, 23, welcomed the opportunity to make the most of his time on the bench.

"I feel like this off-day is going to be a learning process today," Hamilton said. "I'm going to do a bunch of cage work. It's not that it's my swing, it's my mental approach. But I feel like this off-day and being on the bench will get things off my mind and not worry about anything."

During Thursday's 7-6 loss to the Cardinals, Hamilton reached base for the first time with a two-out walk in the bottom of the eighth.

"The walk even helped me out a lot," Hamilton said. "I wasn't chasing pitches as much. Me touching first base, it was 'OK, it's back to baseball. Now I feel more relaxed and comfortable to play this game.'"

Price said that Hamilton would definitely be starting Saturday's and Sunday's games vs. the Mets.

"I know that he's facing good pitching and he wants to do well," Price said. "Facing [Adam] Wainwright and some of the late-inning bullpen guys for St. Louis is a hard way sometimes to start the season. It hasn't affected the way I think about him or the type of impact he'll have on our club."

Latos hit hard in rehab start

NEW YORK -- Following three outings in the Reds' Minor League camp in Arizona, Reds pitcher Mat Latos began his rehab assignment on Thursday for Double-A Pensacola. Latos' pitching line was not very robust.

Over four innings and 75 pitches, Latos allowed five runs (three earned) on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts. There was a two-run home run surrendered in the first inning.

"My ego is a little bruised, but it is what it is. I feel great," Latos told reporters in Pensacola. "I was throwing strikes. I got hit around and hit around hard, but regardless, the control was there. It's just a matter of finishing the hitters, making that pitch when I needed to."

Most importantly, it didn't sound like Latos had any issues with his surgically repaired left knee and right elbow. He tore the meniscus in his knee, which required a Feb. 14 procedure. Bone chips were removed from the elbow in October.

"The body of the knee feels good, the elbow feels good," Latos said.

The plan is to have Latos make his next start on Tuesday for Triple-A Louisville at Columbus. It should be his final tuneup before being activated from the disabled list around mid-April.

"He'll have to pitch fairly efficiently to get that six innings or 90 pitches, which would both be target goals," Reds manager Bryan Price said on Friday. "And he has to come out of it feeling good. If he is, I think we're pretty optimistic he'll be able to start the tail end of the Tampa Bay series or the early part of the Pittsburgh series."

Mesoraco begins rehab stint, could return soon

NEW YORK -- Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, on the disabled list with a strained left oblique, began his rehab assignment on Thursday with Double-A Pensacola while catching pitcher Mat Latos.

Mesoraco had three plate appearances with two walks, a sacrifice fly and an RBI.

"He came out of it in good shape. That's a good thing," Reds manager Bryan Price said on Friday. "We're going to incrementally add a couple of innings to each of his outings today and tomorrow."

If Mesoraco has no issues this weekend, he will likely be activated before the start of the next series at St. Louis.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.