Votto, Cozart worthy All-Stars

Published 1:21 am Saturday, July 8, 2017

Jim Walker

CINCINNATI — The fans wanted Zack Cozart. Major League Baseball wanted Joey Votto.
Everyone got what they wanted. In fact, Cozart even got a bonus.
As promised, Votto is giving Cozart a donkey for making his first All-Star Game appearance. Cozart is a fan of donkeys and was talking about the animal during spring training.
Both Cincinnati Reds’ players were named to the National League team and will play in the Mid-Summer Classic on Tuesday in Miami.
The 31-year-old Cozart — in his seventh season — is making his first-ever all-star appearance while Votto is being honored for the fifth time and first since 2013.
“I made the All-Star team four consecutive times and, after a while, I took them for granted. I expected to be there,” said Votto.
“It wasn’t until I started taking a few years off from making the team that I realized that’s something that has a good deal of meaning and something a player can be proud of. Without sounding too self-involved, I missed it. I missed being part of that. I missed representing Cincinnati and I missed the opportunities in the past.”
Cozart’s head is still swirling from not only making the team but being selected as the start ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager and Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell.
“I am pretty surprised that I’m starting. That’s just as good as it gets, I think,” said Cozart. “Making the team is always an individual goal that you go into the season with. I don’t have a lot of individual goals, but that’s obviously way one of them that’s up there.
“It means a lot. I know Cincinnati was voting hard and I had to have some help outside of Cincy and that happened.”
Reds’ manager Bryan Price confirms that Cozart is not one for personal goals and is the consummate team player.
“If he’s 0-for-5, if he’s 4-for-5. If he’s 0-for-5, 4-for-5, he comes in after a win and he’s as happy and as excited as anybody on our ball club and that’s great to see. And you can’t say that for everybody in baseball. There are people who are really numbers-driving over team wins and he’s a team player,” said Price.
Cozart is among the top hitters in the league with a .317 batting average. He has nine home runs, 34 RBI, 18 doubles and just 47 strikeouts in 241 at-bats.
Always a great defensive player, Cozart said an adjustment he made in spring training has helped him post a career-best batting average.
“I made a little switch in in spring training with my set-up. I feel like that’s helped a lot. Obviously, mentally out there, I’ve just been way more consistent this year than I have in the past over a long haul. I want to keep it going but I want to enjoy this,” said Cozart.
Votto, 33, is putting up some career-best mid-season numbers. He has 25 home runs and 64 runs batted in to go with his .315 batting average.
Votto’s previous career high for an entire season is 37 during his 2010 NL Most Valuable Player season. His home run total led to being asked to participate in the Home Run Derby. But the Reds’ first baseman graciously passed.
“I passed because it’s a style of hitting that I never do. I’ve played every game thus far this season and I’m concerned about two things,” said Votto.
“I’m concerned about potentially getting injured and I’m concerned about not being able to do my very best if I can sense an injury. It’s a challenging event. It’s something that I’d rather save for the field and during the games.”
The competition was fierce at first base this season. Votto’s numbers are impressive but the same can be said for Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona, Anthony Rizzo of Chicago and starter Ryan Zimmerman of Washington.
“It felt like everybody was playing really, really well. I knew that if I didn’t make the tea it wouldn’t necessarily felt like I had been ignored because there were so many candidates,” said Votto.
“To make the team amongst these group of guys, one of them I think is one of the best players in baseball, it’s a great thing. I think it’s pretty cool.”
Price said both players were very deserving.
“I think two extremely valuable candidates made the club,” said Price.
“With Zack, it’s really performance-based. Small market where the baseball community said, ‘Hey, this guy,’ and they took notice that this kid is having a phenomenal year. The fan vote really says that the people were watching and taking notice and they voted for the best player.
“For Joey to make it, he had to go out there and run numbers, which he did. Home runs, RBIs, runs scored, slugging percentage, on-base percentage. To me, he’s having his best defensive year. His baserunning is improving. Every part of his game is getting better and it didn’t go unrecognized by those in the office who made the decision on additional players.”
The game will be televised by Fox Sports at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

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