There’s no way around it. Billy Hamilton is on fire.
The Mustangs second baseman had three more hits Tuesday night to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, and Billings defeated Helena 5-3 to open a six-game homestand at Dehler Park.
The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Hamilton raised his batting average to a team-best .345, and also stole three more bases to increase his Pioneer League-leading total to 24 as Billings evened its second-half record at 2-2.
During his hitting streak, Hamilton is 27 for 54 — an astronomical .500 — with 24 singles. He’s lifted his average 68 points in the last 12 games.
Not bad for a kid who began the season in a 2-for-21 slump.
“I’m starting to understand what these pitchers are trying to do to me,” the switch-hitting Hamilton said. “I watch the defense and I pick my spots. I try to work on that spot particularly, so it’s working pretty good.”
“He’s working hard every day,” Mustangs manager Delino DeShields said. “I just think he’s understanding what kind of hitter he is, especially from the left side. He’s not going to be a guy that hits home runs or hits a lot of balls in the gap.”
Hamilton, whose first-pitch single helped the Mustangs notch three runs in the first inning, has been a fan favorite all summer. But if the Taylorsville, Miss., product continues this pace, he could be on his way out of town.
When asked if the 19-year-old Hamilton has a chance to be promoted within the Cincinnati Reds’ organization this season, DeShields said he wouldn’t be surprised.
“He’d probably deserve to go,” said DeShields, who struck a cautionary tone. “Whether or not that would be the best thing for him at this point? I don’t know. That’s something we would have to discuss as a staff and as an organization to see what’s best for the kid.”
On top of his stolen base numbers (he’s swiped 15 bags in the last 12 games), Hamilton leads the Pioneer League in at-bats (168), hits (58), triples (6) and runs scored (38). He’s also played terrific defense. With just six errors, Hamilton carries a .969 fielding percentage rotating between second base and shortstop.
A second-round pick in the 2009 first-year player draft, Hamilton is putting together the kind of season he knew he was capable of after spending last season in the Gulf Coast League.
“Once I got here and got working on my stuff … it’s going pretty good right now,” he said.
“I wish I could say I’ll be moving up. But either way I’m going to still play my hardest and try to get better each and every day.”
Hamilton’s hot bat is just one reason the Mustangs have now won seven of their last eight games at home. They’ve also gotten strong pitching, and starter Daniel Tuttle continued that trend on Tuesday.
Though he gave up three runs in the first inning, Tuttle (5-2) earned his second straight win. The right-hander tossed five innings, allowing five hits while striking out seven and walking only one.
He did, however, give up a two-run home run to Helena’s Cody Hawn in the first inning, though it appeared Hawn’s deep fly ball sailed well wide of the foul pole in left field.
“I guess it looked a little foul,” Tuttle said sheepishly. “You just try to get the next guy out. There’s not much you can do about it.”
Tuttle was backed in the bullpen by Drew Hayes and Porfirio Martinez, who combined to throw four hitless innings. Martinez locked down his fifth save in the ninth inning. Hayes threw two innings, striking out two while allowing one base on balls.
Offensively, all nine hitters in Billings’ lineup reached the hit column, including Stephen Hunt, a new addition to the club. He hit a two-out double in the eighth.
The Mustangs and Brewers will play the second game of their three-game set tonight at 7 p.m. at Dehler Park.
NOTES: Both Hunt and P Michael Henry were called up from the Reds’ Arizona League affiliate on Tuesday. Henry replaces reliever Blaine Howell, who was promoted to Single-A Dayton. … The addition of Hunt may mean the injury to OF Yorman Rodriguez is more serious than first thought. Rodriguez, who injured his hand last week, underwent a CT scan on Tuesday and the results are pending. DeShields said Rodriguez won’t be back on the field for another 10 to 14 days regardless. … OF Sean Conner remains day-to-day with swelling in his knee.