CINCINNATI -- Both Joey Votto and the Reds realized Tuesday that he likely won't be playing at or near 100 percent this season.
To both parties, Votto was good enough and close enough, and that's why Cincinnati activated the first baseman from the 15-day disabled list. To make room on the 25-man roster, first baseman/outfielder Donald Lutz was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.
Votto had not played since May 15 because of a distal strain of his left quadriceps. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in the Reds' 6-1 loss to the Dodgers.
"I'm optimistic and hopeful that it will be cooperative and I'll be able to play and make progress and continue to make improvements during the season," Votto said. "I hold myself to a high standard, and I wouldn't come back unless I felt I could play to that high standard. I am not really concerned about what percentage people think that I'm at. I'm going to come back and play well."
Votto's injury first surfaced in an MRI exam after he had been bothered by a sore knee. The Reds placed Votto on the DL on May 21.
"We do feel like if we can give him a stronger base to play with, he may not be 100 percent, but what he does give us is a more optimistic feeling that we've got the real Joey Votto on the field as opposed to the guy that was playing at about 50 percent," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That just wasn't going to be good enough."
In two rehab assignment games with Louisville at Pawtucket, Votto was 2-for-6 with two singles.
"He played back-to-back days and came out of it feeling good," Price said. "I talked to him last night after he got back to Cincinnati late last night. I made the decision that we'd get Joey here to the ballpark and see how he felt when he woke up and if everything was feeling good and fairly normal, and it is. So we'll have him in there."
Votto, 30, enjoyed the brief rehab stint with Louisville.
"Baseball was fun again down there," he said. "I love the guys down there and it was a really good time. It reminded me of part of the reason why I play baseball. It has nothing to do with the actual game, but playing with teammates and stuff and having a good time really kind of shook it up for me. For some reason, it helped me.
"It's a challenge up here, both struggling when you're injured and most importantly when the team isn't playing well. Going down there was kind of a breath of fresh air combined with playing. This is exactly where I want to be and need to be, but sometimes a nice little surprise happens in life, and that was down there."
In 39 games entering Tuesday, Votto had a slash line of .257/.410/.449 with six home runs and 12 RBIs. Over his last 16 games before coming out of the lineup, Votto was batting .182 with two home runs and two RBIs. The Reds went 11-12 while Votto was on the DL.
"It's not like he was a terrible player before he went on the DL," Price said. "But it wasn't what we've always come to anticipate with Joey, and that's a real threat in a lot of different areas in the game. We wanted to get him closer to being that guy."
Ravaged by injuries all season, the Reds are now one larger step closer to being whole again with Votto back. Pitcher Mat Latos, who has yet to pitch this season, could be activated on Saturday to start vs. the Brewers.
Price moved Votto back to the third spot in the Reds' lineup, ahead of Brandon Phillips. Early in the season to try to boost a struggling order, Votto was moved to the second spot and Phillips batted third.
"The best lineup is having our components all healthy and capable of playing," Price said. "That's the positive. We'll find out if this is the best order that we have. Right now, I'm tickled to death to have him back. We're one hitter deeper in our lineup, so we'll be able to press the defense throughout our batting order with the depth he adds."