McCoy: Slumping Votto gets first off day of season

Alex Blandino starts at first base against Dodgers on Monday night

Joey Votto was not in Monday’s Cincinnati Reds lineup to face Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias.

It is not a benching, not like last season when Votto sat for four games and said, “I’ve been benched.”

It does seem curious that Votto is not in the lineup when his Cincinnati Reds are on a seven-game losing streak and playing arguably the best team in baseball.

His recent numbers, though, suggest that maybe a day off the field might be beneficial. He is 2 for his last 23 with nine strikeouts.

In Votto’s place is infielder/outfielder Alex Blandino, a guy with a few cameo appearances at first base, a guy who had to borrow a first baseman’s mitt belonging to Mike Moustakas.

“The season, for all major league players, can be a bit of a grind,” said manager David Bell about Votto’s absence. “He hasn’t had any off days. Traveling across time zones is not easy. It can be challenging. So I thought it would be a good day.”

Votto insists all is well and that it is way too early to change his stance, change his bats or even change his hat.

“The ball is coming off my bat harder,” he said. “It is a carry-over from last year. Again, I haven’t had a really good stretch yet. I had maybe a three or four-game stretch, but it was very short.

“I haven’t performed well, I need to play better,” he said. “But. . .it’ll come. The walks haven’t been there and I don’t like that. And certainly not very many hits. That’s not good. That’ll have to change.”

Votto is sitting on home run run No. 299, awaiting the arrival of No,. 300, but he has not prioritized it.

“No, no. . .just keep moving forward,” he said. “I’m just working toward hitting well and keep plugging away. I don’t think too much about that (No. 300). I’m aware of it, but it is not a dream number in any way.”

Of his team’s recent failures and what to do about it, Votto said, “Just keep plugging away. This (the Dodgers) is a good team to compete against when you are in a little bit of a rough stretch. The Dodgers are clearly very, very good. So if we can match them, compete well, that’s a good sign.

“We have to keep moving forward and don’t let recent stretch of poor play have an impact on future games.”

Votto’s stand-in, Blandino, said he never played first base as a kid or even in the minors, “But I’m ready to roll. I was there quite a bit in spring training, so I got my feet wet. Back in ’18 I actually played there, not a ton, but a few times.”

Blandino is one of those guys who makes the team because he has the versatility of a Swiss army knife. He can play shortstop, second base, third base, first base and the outfield.

That means he carries an armload of gear to the dugout every game, like a prepared boy scout.

“I am bringing four gloves out to the dugout for every game,” he said. “A third base glove, a middle glove for short and second and I’m currently using Mike Moustakas’s first baseman’s mitt,” he said. “I’m also borrowing an outfield glove as well.

“Every time I walked out from the clubhouse to the dugout, I have two bats, elbow guard, four gloves. . .I’m dropping stuff left and right. It’s kind of tough. I have my own little corner in the dugout where I have all my stuff and it takes up a little more space than my allotment. It is what it is and I’m ready to go anywhere.”

And Monday night it was first base and back in the leadoff spot for the second straight game.

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