Joey Votto remains uncertain for Opening Day, may begin 2023 season on injured list
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Opening Day is less than a week away and it’s uncertain whether Joey Votto will be starting at first base when the Cincinnati Reds begin their season Thursday.
Votto has played for nearly two weeks in spring training games, but he’s still in the process of accumulating at-bats and defensive innings to reach the point where he feels ready for the start of the regular season.
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Speaking for more than 10 minutes in front of his locker before Saturday’s spring training game, Votto sounded like a player who recognizes he may begin the season on the injured list. The Reds trust Votto’s judgement on how prepared he feels for the season and will likely wait to make a final determination until Opening Day rosters are due Thursday morning.
“I recognize being a part of Opening Day is important in our city,” said Votto, who has been on 15 Opening Day rosters in his career, one shy of tying Dave Concepcion for third in franchise history and two shy of the record held by Barry Larkin and Pete Rose. “I recognize I've been there for a while and the fans' expectations … I will always want to meet them. That being said, I have to make sure that I prepare for a long season. I have to make sure that I'm healthy, so that I can perform well and be a valuable member of this team.
“I just want to make sure I'm clear: This is a performance-based game. You have to do your job. And I can't come back early, tank and embarrass our organization. I have to come back, perform well and be healthy.”
The 39-year-old Votto, who is in the last guaranteed year of his Reds contract, remains confident he will play well this year. He’s coming off the worst offensive season of his career, though playing through his injuries for more than a month likely played a significant part in his statistical decline.
“I've done really well with my offensive work,” Votto said. “I mean this, seriously, I think I'm going to play well. I think I'm going to perform well offensively. If not, I'm going to retire. End of story.”
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The Reds never committed to a timetable for Votto, who had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder and damage to his bicep last August. Manager David Bell said he didn’t think Votto returning by Opening Day was truly a realistic possibility until a couple of weeks ago, a testament to how much time Votto dedicated to his rehab, which remains ongoing.
There are 14 healthy position players remaining in camp for 13 spots, including lefty-hitting Jason Vosler, so the Reds have a contingency if Votto has a delayed start to the season.
“There is a reason guys ramp up and do the three out of four days, seven innings, nine innings and they do that for a stretch of time,” Votto said. “It’s important to feel confident in your body. I just had my back-to-back seven-inning games, which is really good. I’m happy about the progress. My swing doesn’t feel ready yet. My legs don’t feel ready yet. But I’m working hard defensively, on the bases and in competition to be back as soon as possible.”
Entering Saturday, Votto had four hits in 19 at-bats with one double, four walks and four strikeouts during Cactus League play. He said facing Seattle Mariners relievers Andrés Muñoz, who hit 100 mph, and Paul Sewald, who has an excellent slider, were reminders of the types of pitchers he needs to be ready to face every day.
“I have the responsibility of coming back prepared because the second you get put into that first lineup, you’re not in rehab mode,” Votto said. “You’re not in ‘let’s pace him’ mode. I have the responsibility of coming back and being able to answer the lineup every day, be available for any pinch-hit, defensive switch, what have you, and then run it back each and every day for the rest of the season. That’s exactly what I’m preparing for.”
Votto wanted to emphasize he wasn’t frustrated. This is just new territory for him and he’s not sure whether he will be ready for the regular season in less than a week. He says he’s grateful to play long enough to deal with a major injury in his career.
It’s possible Votto could remain in Arizona after the team returns to Cincinnati on Sunday. The Reds will play intrasquad games Monday and Wednesday, but Votto could look to play full nine-inning minor league games in Arizona.
“I cannot wait to put on a Reds uniform and do it in front of fans,” Votto said. “I cannot wait to be on this team and to work side-by-side with all my teammates, a lot of new ones who I am bonding with that I'm fond of. I look forward to being a surprising team this year. It's going to take a lot of surprising performances, but I think there's a lot of guys in this room that feel confident they can have that breakout year.”
There are a lot of ways this is a big season for Votto, particularly with his contract status in a rebuilding organization. But Votto hopes it’s a big year for the team.
“This is very much a crossroads for our organization,” Votto said. “This is very much an opportunity for us to tell the baseball world and our fans that we're heading in the right direction. Hop aboard. If you've never been on the bandwagon, there's plenty of seats. We'd love to have you.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Joey Votto uncertain for Cincinnati Reds Opening Day, may start on IL