Nobody was happier than Joey Votto to be back in the Reds lineup on Thursday for the first time since Aug. 15.
The Reds activated the All-Star first baseman from the 10-day disabled list for his first game since August 15. Votto had been sidelined with a right lower leg contusion, the result of being hit by a Ryan Madson pitch on Aug. 4 in Washington. He tried to play through the pain before it started intruding too much on his game, especially defensively.
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“I feel great,” Votto said. “I’m looking forward to getting back. It was more frustrating playing so poorly. I wasn’t able to play defense. I thought it was a pretty good reason to take time off. I felt good all year. I didn’t need to rest. It was 15 fewer games that I wish I had.”
Votto actually missed 12 games, of which the Reds won five.
He is the second left-handed hitter to return from the disabled list in six days, joining outfielder Scott Schebler, who came back last Saturday after being out with a shoulder injury he suffered on July 14. Just as Votto was returning, center fielder Billy Hamilton was out of Thursday’s starting lineup after being spiked while scoring Wednesday on a wild pitch.
Second baseman Scooter Gennett also was getting Thursday off.
“I think Billy could get in this game (Thursday) if needed,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “He got banged up pretty good, but he’s a tough kid. I’m pretty sure he’ll be back (Friday) if he doesn’t get in the game (Thursday).”
The Reds announced nine minutes before Thursday’s scheduled first pitch that third baseman and team RBI leader Eugenio Suarez had been scratched from the starting lineup with mid-back spasms.
Ups and downs: Outfielder Preston Tucker was optiond to Triple-A Louisville to make room for Votto on the active roster. The Reds also placed right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis and recalled right-hander Austin Brice.
“Stephenson’s shoulder is a little tender,” Riggleman said. “It’s precautionary. Hopefully, he responds well and it only takes 10 days, but we’ll see.
“Preston is pretty much a left fielder-slugger. In today’s world, it’s hard to carry that. If you’re carrying six men, a threat off the bench to hit one out of the park is good. We just don’t have that luxury right now.”
Road to a record: If Michael Lorenzen can avoid starting a game this season, he will set a record.
Cincinnati’s slugging pitcher clubbed his fourth home run of the season in Wednesday’s wild 13-12 loss to Milwaukee. He is trying to become the first player in what’s known as a the “live ball” era – since 1920 – to hit at least four homers in a season without starting a game.
Lorenzen has hit two homers as a relief pitcher and two as a pinch-hitter, including his memorable grand slam on June 30 off Milwaukee’s Jacob Barnes – who was recalled by the Brewers from Triple-A Colorado Springs for Thursday’s game.
The single-season franchise record for home runs by a pitcher is four by converted outfielder Hal Jeffcoat in 1957.
Second life: Lorenzen’s latest homer followed what appeared to be many to be a fouled-off bunt with two strikes, which normally would be a strikeout, but the umpires ruled that Lorenzen was pulling his bat back and wasn’t bunting. He launched his three-run blast into the left field seats on the next pitch after a lengthy discussion between the umpires and Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell.
“It was a very unusual play,” third base umpire and crew chief Bill Welke explained to a pool reporter. “He was in full retreat. It was not an intentionally met, non-swinging attempt. He was not attempting to hit that. Therefore if he’s not attempting to hit that, it just becomes a foul ball. If you saw (plate umpire) Tony (Randazzo) point down, Tony’s responsibility was to make sure the first base umpire didn’t have him attempting. That was just good umpiring on Tony’s part. I know it’s confusing for the people that weren’t within it. He started squaring, but when he bailed out, he is no longer trying to meet the ball with the bat. When he pulled it back, it is no different than when a guy ducks down and the ball goes off the bat and goes to the backstop.
“We’ve seen other plays similar to that. We understand why Counsell was questioning it because it was unusual.”
Bye-bye: The Reds were scheduled to leave after Thursday’s game to open a six-game road trip, starting on Friday with the first of three games against the surging Cardinals in St. Louis. Right-hander Homer Bailey (1-12) was Cincinnati’s scheduled starter for the 8:15 p,m. opener. The Reds are 1-17 in his 18 starts this season.