Reds’ Votto on return from shoulder surgery: ‘I’m happy with my progress’

CINCINNATI — At 39 years old and with 16 seasons of experience on his résumé, Joey Votto knows well that baseball is a game of constant adjustmenst.

He’s in the midst of a major one this offseason that he hopes gets his career on track even as it’s winding down.

For the first time, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman is taking swings during the offseason. He’s hoping to put behind him an injury-plagued 2022 season during which he batted .205 with 18 doubles, 11 home runs and 41 runs batted in over 91 games before undergoing season-ending surgery on Aug. 19 to repair the biceps and torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.

“I’ve been hitting off a tee,” the left-handed batter said before greeting season ticket holders on the first day of Redsfest at downtown Cincinnati’s Duke Energy Convention Center. “I’m swinging really well. Of course, major league speed is a little different.

“I never used to swing in the offseason. I used to just work on my strength and try to become a better athlete. Now, I’m looking forward to swinging painfree. I have to, or I won’t be in a good place for my career.”

The 2023 season is the last of the 10-year, $225 million contract Votto signed with the Reds before the 2014 season. He is due to be paid $25 million next season. The Reds have an option on the 2024 season. He would be paid $20 million if they exercise it, or they can buy him out for $7 million.

Votto deemed himself happy with his progress.

“Rehab went well,” he said. “I’m happy with my progress. I was told I was doing well. I’m optimistic about playing well again. I feel good. My schedule was rehabbing, training and sleeping.”

Despite the surgery, Votto ended the 2022 season high on several of the franchise’s career lists – fifth in games, third in runs, RBIs and total bases, fourth in hits, second in doubles, home runs and extra-base hits and first in walks. He has come to realize – again – that he somehow got away in 2022 from the approach that helped him climb those ladders.

“I became too much of a pull hitter,” he said. “I wasn’t balanced in my lower half.”

He recalled having going through the same issue while playing with the Single-A Dayton Dragons in 2003. He batted .231 in 60 games.

“I’m looking forward to making the adjustment,” he said.

He doesn’t expect Major League Baseball’s ban on infield shifts to have much of an impact on his return. New rules require defenses to have two players on each side of second base and all of them to have both feet on the infield dirt.

“That’s not a factor,” he said. “I’m not thinking about that.”

Meanwhile, Votto was planning to indulge in the first Redsfest since 2019. COVID concerns forced the franchise to cancel the offseason fan festival each of the last two years.

“I’m excited to see my teammates,” he said. “I’m excited to see familiar faces. It reminds us that the season is not far away. Sooner than we know, we’ll be talking about pitchers and catchers reporting. It comes quickly.

“I just like seeing familiar faces and exchanging handshakes and hugs.”

Votto also had the opportunity to dive more more deeply into his ever-developing passion for chess. He recently participated in his first live tournament, which didn’t go well for him.

“I got flattened by a 9-year-old,” he reported on Instagram. “More like pawn.”

Votto was asked on Friday if he really lost so easily to a 9-year-old.

“May have been 8,” he said with a smile.

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