After 10 month layoff, Votto excited about new culture of young Reds team

Published 2:37 am Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto watches his solo home run against the Colorado Rockies in Cincinnati on Monday. Votto was playing for the first time since last August due to shoulder surgery in the Reds 5-4 win. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

CINCINNATI (AP) — Joey Votto homered and hit a go-ahead, two-run single in his return to the Reds’ lineup after a 10-month absence that followed an operation to repair his left biceps and rotator cuff, helping Cincinnati to a 5-4 win over Colorado that boosted the team into the NL Central lead.

The 39-year-old hit sixth and played first base Monday night in the first big league game since Aug. 16. The 2010 NL MVP hit a 104.4 mph lineout to center in the second inning, then drove a first-pitch, belt-high fastball from Austin Gomber in the fifth. The 102 mph drive landed about a dozen rows into the right-field seats and put the Reds ahead 3-1.

After circling the bases on his 343rd home run, Votto emerged from the Reds dugout for a curtain call, wearing a celebratory Viking helmet and cape. He had not homered since last Aug. 6 against Milwaukee’s Jake McGee.

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“Long time coming,” Votto said. “Ever since I’ve watched them put it on each other, I was thinking about how badly I want that on me because it’s tied to a winning moment, and that’s exactly — exactly — what this team’s about. This is a different energy than I’ve experienced in years, maybe in my entire career, the way these guys think about themselves and how hard they play. I wanted to be a part of this, We are all a part of this.”

Votto’s two-run single to center off Jake Bird, grounded at 108.7 mph, put the Reds ahead 5-4 in the sixth.

Votto was greeted with a standing ovation when he walked to the plate in the second inning and took off his helmet and waved to the crowd, then tapped it against his heart.

“The crowd reaction was surprising,” Votto said. “Not to underestimate them, but you don’t expect that. I feel the same way toward them. For them to reciprocate means a great deal to me. It was a memorable experience.”

Votto had surgery on Aug. 19, ending a season in which he hit .205 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs. At the time of the operation, the Reds said they expected the six-time All-Star back by opening day.

“I feel much more like myself,” Votto said before the game. “I’m back to full health. Ten months is a long rehab. If I’m going to rejoin a winning ballclub, my responsibility is to be up to speed with them.”

He made his spring training debut on March 12 and hit .182 with one double and one RBI in eight games, then was put on the 10-day injured list and sent to Triple-A Louisville for a minor league injury rehabilitation assignment. Votto hit .184 with one homer and five RBIs through April 14, then was put on the 60-day IL in May 4.

He rejoined Louisville on June 3 and hit .182 with two homers and six RBIs in 12 additional games through Sunday with the Bats. Cincinnati activated him from the IL on Monday and placed right-hander Hunter Greene on the 15-day IL with right hip pain, a move retroactive to Sunday.

Reds manager David Bell said Votto will play often, but it will be a day-to-day decision based on matchups.

In the final season of a $251.5 million, 12-year contract, Votto is among 20 players with 8,000 or more plate appearances to hit .297 or better with an on-base percentage of at least .400 (.412) and a slugging percentage of at least .500 (.513).

He joins a team that began the night with a 37-35 record, a half-game behind Milwaukee in the NL Central. The Reds have made the playoffs just once since 2013, when the postseason was expanded to 16 teams for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

“I’ve been witness to the culture in this clubhouse,” Votto said. “Things are changing for the better.”