“I feel really good,” he said. “It felt really good to be back on the field defensively.”
Votto has been on the Cincinnati’s COVID injured list since May 3. The Reds edged the Cleveland Guardians, 5-4, on Tuesday in Cleveland to improve to 7-7 in the 14 games he’d missed. He hit .122 with one double, no triples or home runs and three runs batted in over 22 games before going on the IL.
He expects to play in Dayton again on Wednesday before joining the Reds in his hometown of Toronto for a weekend series against the Blue Jays.
“I would’ve loved to have been in Cleveland, but I didn’t get any defensive reps on Louisville,” he pointed out. “It’s all happened so quick once I got back from rehab. I figure one more game and then a day off and I’ll be ready. I haven’t any days off since I came off rehab.”
Tuesday’s game was the third of Votto’s rehab assignment. He filled Triple-A Louisville’s designated hitter role in the first two, going a combined 1-for-4 with three walks, two strikeouts and an RBI single. We was 1-for-1 with two walks on Saturday and 0-for-3 with one walk and two strikeouts on Sunday. He hit leadoff in both games, but he knew he needed glove work.
“I was in bed or on a couch for nine days,” he said. “I went from major league speed to a screeching halt. This is such a fast game that I didn’t want to injure myself or embarrass myself.”
He also wants to make sure that he’s fully ready to contribute to the Reds. He anticipates being ready by Friday.
“It excites me,” he said about going home. “I have great memories. It would be disingenuous to say otherwise, but it’s important to me and to the Reds that I be ready when I come back.”
Making it to Toronto would be Votto’s second homecoming of the week. The rehab in Dayton is the third for Votto during his 16-year major league career. He appeared in two games in 2009 and three in 2012. He played in a combined 171 games with Dayton in the 2003 and 2004 seasons while working his way up through the Reds farm system.
Votto’s 2022 assignment was changed to Dayton when the Bats opened a road trip in Nashville.
Allan Cerda hit two first-pitch home runs for East Division-leading Dayton. Joe Boyle allowed three hits and one run with two walks and eight strikeouts while throwing a Dragons season-high 97 pitches. He struck out six of the last seven batters he faced and still was throwing 98 miles per hour to the last batter he faced, but Quad Cities capitalized on two ninth-inning errors to score four runs.
With uniform number 19 already taken by pitcher Myles Gayman, Votto opted for number 39.
Votto, Dayton’s fifth different starting first baseman in the last five games, led the Dragons out of the dugout for the top of the first inning.
His day at work started with manning first base during infield practice before hitting with the first group during batting practice. Hitting out of his usual upright stance, he belted five home runs, the first to left-center field and the next four to right. Three left the ballpark and bounced among cars parked along Sears Street.
After getting some help from Jose Torres folding up the protective screen at first base, he then took some grounders before launching an extensive conversation in the Dragons’ dugout with Reds vice president and assistant general manager Sam Grossman.
A sign hanging from the patio of an apartment on Sears Street declared “Dayton (hearts) Votto.”
“I have an amazing amount of respect for the players and the coaches and the staff and the way they accommodate me,” Votto said. “I’m taking at bats from somebody. I’m taking innings away from somebody. It amazes me that they allow me to step in when I’m throwing off their rhythm.
“These fans have so much energy. I’m not here to rehab. I’m here to compete. I’m here to entertain the fans.”
He recalled earlier rehab visits after he’d seen major league stadiums.
“I remember looking around and wondering, ‘Why did I find this place so intimidating?’” he said with a slight smile. “Then I struck out, and it’s like, ‘Oh, yes.’”
Tuesday’s game was the first of a six-game Dayton homestand, all against Quad Cities, which went into the game fifth in the six-team ML West.
Votto flied to deep left field on the first pitch of Dayton’s first inning. He struck out on a 1-2 pitch when he couldn’t check his swing on a 1-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the third.
Votto singled crisply to right field on a one-strike pitch with two outs and Nick Quintana on first base in the fifth inning, setting up Elly De La Criuz’s three-run blast to right that landed on Sears Street.
That was the second of three Dragons’ homers in the inning. Allen Cerda led off with a deep fly ball to left. Jose Torres capped the scoring with a fly ball that grazed the left field foul pole for a 5-1 Dayton lead.
In the field, the first time he touched the ball was snaring on the short hop a throw from third baseman Nick Quintana for the second out of Quad Cities’s second inning. He caught a popup to end the fourth.
He also retrieved a foul ball, but when he tried to loft it in the stands, he couldn’t get it past the net. He was more successful on his second try.