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Record-setting base stealer steps up with Reds

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Record-setting base stealer steps up with Reds

CINCINNATI (AP) Billy Hamilton is ready to show the major leagues that he can steal a base anywhere.

The Reds have invited the 22-year-old outfielder with freakish speed to spring training, giving him a chance to see firsthand what it's like to take off running with a major league pitcher and catcher trying to keep him from taking the next base.

Hamilton set a professional record with 155 steals last season, which he split between Single-A and Double-A. The Reds plan to start him at Triple-A Louisville this season, giving him time to develop his bunting and adapt to his new position in center field.

First, he'll get a chance to attend camp in Arizona as a non-roster invitee. He played in a few spring games last year, but will get a more regular test this time.

Can he steal off these guys?

``People say once you move up, it's going to be harder,'' Hamilton said Thursday, before boarding a bus as part of the team's annual winter caravan to nearby cities. ``But my confidence takes me a long way, not just in baseball. I feel if I get there and have the same confidence, I'll be good. I'm looking forward to it, to seeing what the outcome is.''

A lot of fans are aching to see what happens when he finally makes it to Cincinnati.

Reds fans were enticed by speed when lanky left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman started his career in the minors and hit 105 mph on radar guns with his fastball. He reached the big leagues in 2010 and hit 105 mph again.

The diminutive Hamilton seems to run as fast during the 90-foot dash from base to base - only an optical illusion, of course. However, he has already received national attention for circling the bases in a mere 13.8 seconds during an inside-the-park homer in the minors - the video quickly became a hit on YouTube.

At that speed, he compares favorably to some of the fastest players in the majors.

The Reds' challenge is getting him ready to run the bases in the big leagues. They've moved him from shortstop to center field - youngster Zack Cozart has shortstop locked up for the foreseeable future. They traded center fielder Drew Stubbs to the Indians in the offseason and received 30-year-old outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who will play center and bat leadoff this season, his last under contract.

The way is clear for Hamilton to take over the spot either late this season or in 2014, depending upon how quickly he develops at Triple-A. The Reds sent him to the Arizona Fall League after last season to continue his progression.

``He's probably going to end up bunting a lot,'' general manager Walt Jocketty said on Thursday. ``With his speed, we saw him get a lot of hits that way in the fall league. Bunting and running are his two key tools.''

Hamilton's speed brought him a major career choice in high school at Taylorsville, Miss. He was offered a football scholarship to Mississippi State - he played receiver and returned punts - but decided to pursue baseball in part because his mother, Polly, thought it better suited his 6-foot-tall, 160-pound frame.

``It was a real tough decision,'' Hamilton said. ``I sat down with my family. My mom didn't want me to get hit so much. She liked me taking the baseball route. I'm glad I took that route. It's working out good for me.''

At first, he stole bases solely on his speed. Reds coaches, including former star center fielder Eric Davis, have been teaching him how to read pitchers' moves, which will come in handy as he moves up to higher skill levels.

``His main thing was: Don't be afraid,'' Hamilton said. ``Always have that feel that you can't be thrown out. Always be aggressive.''

Teams started pitching out when he reached base last season, but it didn't matter very much.

``They threw over (to first base) a lot,'' Hamilton said. ``They pitched out a lot. It makes me mad, kind of, when I'm running and they pitch out. But it's their job. It's respect.''

He got a lot of respect last year when he topped Vince Coleman's professional record of 145 steals in the minors during the 1983 season. Hamilton would switch his white batting gloves for gray sliding gloves as soon as he reached base, getting ready to take off.

Unlike Willie Mays Hayes, who would tack his gloves to the wall after each successful swipe in the movie ``Major League,'' Hamilton kept no mementos from his record-setting season, which will be daunting to top.

``It's going to be tough to do,'' Hamilton said. ``Just get out there and play my game and see where everything falls.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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Ravens pile up team-record 11 sacks against former defensive coordinator

Ravens pile up team-record 11 sacks against former defensive coordinator

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Baltimore Ravens swarmed around their new defensive coordinator, Don "Wink" Martindale, celebrating after a game that will go down in the record books.

Getting 11 sacks along with a shutout against the man Martindale replaced makes this mark even sweeter.

Za'Darius Smith had a career-high three sacks as the Ravens piled up the franchise-record Sunday in routing the Tennessee Titans 21-0 in the rain, just missing the NFL record shared by five teams by one.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh called it an "historic defensive performance."

The Ravens (4-2) smothered Tennessee, allowing just 106 yards of offense while they turned Marcus Mariota's day into the worst of his NFL career. Eight different Ravens sacked Mariota, and four got their first sack this season at his expense. The Titans never got closer to the end zone than the Ravens 37, each time pushed back with yet another sack.

"We want to be something special out there," Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon said. "For Wink, it's great to go against his predecessor, and he stepped up and we came through and pitched a shutout. You don't ever talk about unicorns while you're doing it, but we got it done. We got it done for him, and we celebrated after."

Martindale was promoted to defensive coordinator when Dean Pees retired after last season. His retirement lasted less than a month with first-year coach Mike Vrabel luring Pees to join him as the Titans' defensive coordinator.

Asked about Pees, Smith only said that the coordinator told him at his pro day at Kentucky that the linebacker would be a Raven.

"Love him to death, but hey, we won tonight, so we're going to leave it at that," Smith said with a smile.

The Titans (3-3) had not been shut out at home since the franchise relocated to Tennessee.

"That's the headline: The `Tennessee Titans didn't do nearly enough on all levels to win the football game,'" Vrabel said. "Or even make it competitive."

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Need to Know: Redskins stock up-stock down vs. Panthers

Need to Know: Redskins stock up-stock down vs. Panthers

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, October 15, six days before the Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

Talking points

Here are the players who saw their stock go up against the Panthers on Sunday and others who saw their stocks drop. 

Stock up—A few days ago, CB Josh Norman was a penny stock. He had mixed up assignments in the blowout loss to the Saints and take a ton of criticism after the game, much of it warranted. During the Panthers game, he was a blue chip. Norman got his first interception in 20 games and he forced a fumble. There is still a lot of season to be played but for now, at least it’s good to be Josh Norman.

Stock down—They won the game and that’s the quarterback’s main job. But for the second straight game, Alex Smith did not play up to his $18.4 million cap number. He passed for 163 yards. At times you really wondered where he was throwing the ball and/or to whom he was throwing it. They were able to win thanks to Adrian Peterson’s rushing and three takeaways. To Smith’s credit, he protected the ball well and it should be noted he was without favorite targets, Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder. Regardless, it was not a sharp performance by Smith. 

Stock upPeterson came into the game with an injured ankle, knee, and shoulder. Not only did he fight through the pain, he thrived. Six days after he rushed for just six yards against the Saints and sat out most of the second half, he picked up 97 yards on 17 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Peterson did rip off a 19-yard run but mostly it was three yards here, six yards there. It was what the Redskins were expecting when the signed him. 

Stock down—With Thompson out, Kapri Bibbs had his big chance to show what he can do. He didn’t do much. Bibbs, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this season, picked up 11 yards rushing on two carries and he caught one pass for six yards. There were some high hopes for Bibbs among Redskins fans. For today, he didn’t live up to them. 

Stock up—I know that Daron Payne didn’t make a ton of plays and his streak of games with at least one sack ended at two. But he was part of a defensive front that held Christian McCaffrey, who came into the game averaging 82.3 rushing yards per game (fourth in the NFL) and 5.2 yards per attempt, to 20 yards on eight attempts, a 2.5 per carry average. And he made a remarkable play, which is becoming routine for him, when he made the tackle on a tight end who had taken a screen pass well outside of the numbers. He’s a special talent and his stock will continue to rise. 

The agenda

Today: Open locker room 11:30; Jay Gruden press conference 3:00 

Upcoming: Cowboys @ Redskins 6; Redskins @ Giants 13; Redskins @ Eagles 49

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