GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Less than a week after undergoing left knee surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage, Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos returned to throwing Wednesday, playing catch on flat ground a few days earlier than the club first anticipated.
Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek initially expected Latos to resume his throwing program seven to 10 days after the surgery on Friday, but the right-hander felt good enough Wednesday to push ahead of schedule.
"I'm not surprised by it, not in this day and age," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's incredible what doctors can do, so once we had the MRI results and knew what the injury was with the meniscus, I was confident with Dr. Kremchek's evaluation. We dodged a bullet there for sure."
Latos, who is also coming off October arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, injured the knee last week when he slipped while long tossing. The Reds are still unsure when Latos will return to the mound, but the club wants to play it safe this early into camp.
"Before his knee injury, our concern was making sure his arm was ready to handle the rigors of Spring Training," Price said. "We hadn't satisfied that understanding yet, so he's got some evolution to take place before we're ready to know when we think he'll be able to face hitters or get in a game."
In 32 starts last year, Latos finished 14-7 with a 3.16 ERA over 210 2/3 innings. He allowed 197 hits and struck out 187 batters with 58 walks.
Hamilton won't be asked to shoulder too much burden
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Billy Hamilton is impatient. As he describes it, he likes to "talk fast, eat fast and run fast."
"I feel like I gotta keep moving every time I'm doing something," Hamilton said.
That mindset has propelled the 23-year-old speedster from a second-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft to one of the most electrifying young players in baseball. But with his first full Major League season still on the horizon, it's fair to wonder if Hamilton's ascension perhaps moves too fast at times, expecting so much so early in his career.
On Thursday, Reds manager Bryan Price quelled some of those thoughts, insisting the organization won't put too much pressure on Hamilton in 2014.
"I'm not worried about that," Price said. "We're not going to ask him to carry all of the load. If we're going to be the team we think we can be, we have to disperse the responsibility throughout our lineup. We have to ask our bench to give us some energy and performance on days where we need to give guys a blow so they're not overwhelmed.
"But with that being said, that's just who Billy is. He just needs to continue to evolve because the work ethic is there."
Replacing the departed Shin-Soo Choo at the top of the lineup will be a worthy first challenge for Hamilton, MLB.com's No. 37 prospect, but even with the inherent weight of the job, the outfielder remains as loose and poised as ever, especially after getting a successful taste of the Majors last September, when he stole 13 bases and hit .368 in 19 at-bats.
"Coming up gave me a bunch of confidence, showed me what it's like to be up here every day and motivated me to get to this level and stay here," Hamilton said. "I got some really good work done in the offseason, so I'm looking forward to the spring."
Arriving in Goodyear several weeks early in January to work on his approach at the plate with Double-A Pensacola manager and ex-big leaguer Delino DeShields, Hamilton added that his bunting ability has developed greatly, and he expects the improved skill to pay immediate dividends come April.
"There will be a lot more bunting than I've done in the past," Hamilton said. "I have to use that to take some pressure off myself. My main job is to do whatever I can to get on base and help the rest of the guys in the lineup. It should be a good season."
Rejuvenated Bell confident he can help Reds
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There was a time not too long ago when Reds right-hander Trevor Bell wasn't sure if he wanted to continue his baseball career. After appearing in 52 games, including 11 starts, with the Angels over a three-year period from 2009-11, the former 2005 first-round Draft pick swiftly found himself hitting rock bottom a year later.
In 10 starts in 2012 with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City, Bell scuffled to a 1-6 record with an 8.27 ERA as opposing batters hit .376 off him. Anaheim cut ties with Bell midway through July that season, and the Tigers followed suit the next spring after a disappointing run in the Grapefruit League.
That's when Bell began to seriously question his future in the game.
"It was a tough few years, ya know?" Bell said. "Things were going really smoothly, then I don't know what happened. It just kind of went away. I thought about, 'Do I still want to play? Do I still want to do this?' But then as more time passed, I realized that this is my passion. I'm a little older now, I'm a little more mature, so I figured I'd give it another shot."
Bell got his opportunity when the Reds came calling last May, offering the down-on-his-luck 27-year-old another chance -- one with which he immediately took off running. Assigned to Double-A Pensacola, Bell transitioned full-time to the bullpen, tallying an impressive 1.72 ERA with 37 strikeouts and just eight walks over 31 1/3 relief innings. He made three appearances for Triple-A Louisville as well, surrendering one run in 3 2/3 frames.
So what exactly helped Bell turn the corner again? He, for one, isn't sure, but he gives a lot of credit to the way the Reds treated him when he was at his worst.
"From the beginning, I felt the confidence they had in me," Bell said. "They were really adamant about wanting to sign me. That was special. It meant a lot to know the organization has your back. It makes you want to show up every day and prove them right."
Experiencing success after so much turmoil, Bell admitted he started having fun again last year. Saving 19 games while with Pensacola, the righty saw his pitches -- a fastball, changeup and slider combination -- become crisper and more consistent as he settled into his new role at the back end of the bullpen.
"There was so much adrenaline, which I hadn't had in a while," he said. "I learned I don't really do well when I'm out there cruising and not busting my butt, so I went out with a bulldog mentality every time."
In all likelihood Bell will begin the season in the Minors, but the rejuvenated pitcher is excited about what the future holds. He feels like his experience and versatility will serve him well if the Reds are forced to call upon some of their organization depth this year.
"I know I still have something to offer," he said. "I basically got parts of three seasons being a swing man, so that experience was huge and it's definitely something I'd love to keep doing. Any way to help the team and make it back to the bigs."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.