7/3/2014 3:55 P.M. ET
Votto's mere presence in lineup benefits Reds
Leg ailment hindering first baseman, but results show unmistakable contribution
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- While Joey Votto will probably continue to maintain he is 100 percent if he's in the Reds' lineup, the first baseman's balky left leg is clearly not. Manager Bryan Price has often said Votto is less than 100 percent since he returned from a left quadriceps strain near his knee.
But it's become clear that a Votto at 70-75 percent in the lineup is better than no Votto at all. And provided that he isn't doing his knee or muscle any added or long-term harm, the club is willing to live with whatever offense the leg will let him produce this season.
Votto is batting .263 with zero home runs, seven doubles, 10 RBIs, 14 walks and only a .355 slugging percentage since he was activated from the disabled list on June 10. Those aren't robust numbers by Votto's high standards or the output expected from the team's highest paid player.
That doesn't mean Votto isn't making things happen offensively. He also has a .374 on-base percentage since coming back.
What has that translated into? More overall run production for the Reds and, even more importantly, more Reds wins.
From May 16 -- when Votto left the lineup to get an MRI exam -- until June 9, the Reds averaged 3.13 runs per game while going 11-12.
Here's what transpired in the 22 games since June 10:
• Cincinnati has averaged exactly five runs per game.
• Votto has reached base in 18 of the 20 games he has started.
• Votto has averaged the most pitches seen per plate appearance -- 4.22 -- on the club since his return.
• The team record is 14-8 in its last 22 games with Votto off the DL.
Reds hitting coach Don Long "absolutely" felt the lineup was better with Votto in it, even if it wasn't the Votto-esque level of hitting the team is used to getting. Players such as Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Jay Bruce and eventually Billy Hamilton get the trickle-down benefit of facing a pitcher who's had to throw more pitches and work with more runners on base and in more run-producing situations.
"All of the offensive clubs have somebody in the lineup that sort of sets the example for what you're after," Long said. "He'll certainly have many at-bats that start off 0-2 or 1-2 and end up with him on base. To have somebody in the lineup setting that example tells guys, 'What does it look like?' I think he's one part of that."
In recent games, Votto has clearly favored his leg more and has had some awkward-looking swings in both San Diego and San Francisco. He could be seen limping at times while running the bases. Price gave him a game off on June 27 vs. the Giants and did not start him on Wednesday vs. the Padres before using him to pinch-hit. He was lifted for a pinch-runner at first base in the ninth inning of Monday's game.
The option of a return to the DL for Votto could likely loom, but it could depend on how much discomfort he can tolerate. Until he says he can't do it anymore, expect him to remain in the No. 3 spot of the Reds' lineup -- but don't expect him to carry the load.
"I just think that we're getting more productivity with the guys behind him, and we're not expecting him to hit the home runs," Price said. "We're just expecting him to be a piece of what we do here. Our good fortune is we don't have to stick Joey in the three or four spot and expect him to do all the damage. He can be a piece of the offense instead of the main part of it. It's kind of our goal moving forward."