Reds celebrate the return of Joey Votto
SEP 04, 2012 5:37p ET
“Who’s that new guy? Who’s that No. 19?” he asked with a broad smile slashing across his face.
Bailey knew who it was as well as he knew the bottoms of his cowboys boots. It was his first baseman, Joey Votto, his first baseman who helps him win games with his bat and his glove.
Votto returned Tuesday to put on his familiar No. 19 Reds uniform for the first time in six weeks after left knee surgery and after a week of minor-league rehab.
He wasn’t in manager Dusty Baker’s lineup Tuesday night but the plan was for his return Wednesday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Asked what he is most curious about concerning his return, it was expected he would say something about his knee passing all the tests. But he issued a stunner.
“I’m really excited to hear the fans’ reactions, that’s why I’m most curious about,” he said. “I miss them and I miss playing here. I love the support and I love playing in front of the fans who come to his ballpark to cheer for the team and me.”
The plan is to go slowly with Votto and Baker is a man with a plan.
“Dusty is the guy who pencils the lineup, but I think working me in gradually is a wise move,” said Votto. “The knee is good, getting better, but it is not 100 percent yet. That’ll come in time.”
Baker knows Votto is full-go and full-bore, bur 85 percent of Votto is better than 100 percent of many players.
“He is not 100 percent sharp-sharp yet, but he is Joey Votto,” said Baker. “We have a plan, but we can’t tell you because that plan changes every day, depending on how he feels and how his body feels. We have to watch him, make sure he doesn’t get sore, doesn’t make a wrong move. We have to preserve him and work him back in there.”
The full recovery time, though, might not come until after the season after the playoffs and, if the Reds are there, after the World Series.
“The 100 percent isn’t physically and I don’t think I’ll see 100 percent until the offseason,” he said. “I’m talking about being able to play baseball. I’d like to think I’ll be able to get through all the games and continue to recover through the end of October.”
Votto played two games for Class A Dayton and two games for Class AAA Louisville and was asked if he was able to test the knee under stress or unscripted play.
“A couple of times, but I didn’t get on base enough when I was down there,” he said. “I wasn’t put in enough challenging positions. I’ll encounter them in Cincinnati and I imagine I’ll get through them.
Votto was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts for the Louisville Bats on Monday after going 1-for-3 with a home run and a walk Sunday.
Baker ignores what Votto did at the plate and said he was more concerned with Votto’s physical well-being that the production from a bat in his hand.
Votto, a proud guy, didn’t exactly agree.
“The minor-league at-bats do matter,” he said. “Going 0-for-3 is not good. I didn’t have a good game. It is not more difficult to hit in the minor-leagues. It is more difficult in the major-leagues. I was given too much credit, but hopefully I’m saving all my hits for the Cincinnati Reds.”
Incredibly, when most observers believed the Reds would bend like a billfold without Votto, they actually went 32-16 without him and built their lead into the National League Central from one game to as many as 9 1/2.
And during his residence on the disabled list, second baseman Brandon Phillips batted third. Baker is expected to move Phillips to leadoff when Votto returns to the lineup.
“I have to talk to him (Phillips) before I tell anybody else,” said Baker. “Third is Joey’s spot. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of help on what my lineup should be, as usual. And please don’t ask me every day.”
Of that, Baker can be certain. And Votto’s condition will determine the mixing and matching Baker does.
“Hey, Joey Votto is Joey Votto and they don’t make them like him too much,” said Baker. “We welcome him back. We’re a better team with him.”
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