GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Joey Votto doesn't want to be peaking by Opening Day. However, the Reds' best hitter and first baseman would like to get into a peak hitting rhythm sooner than he has the past two seasons.If Votto successfully did that -- even if the Reds aren't contenders --
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Joey Votto doesn't want to be peaking by Opening Day. However, the Reds' best hitter and first baseman would like to get into a peak hitting rhythm sooner than he has the past two seasons.
If Votto successfully did that -- even if the Reds aren't contenders -- he would be a candidate for awards like his second National League Most Valuable Player Award, a Silver Slugger Award and the Esurance Hitter of the Year Award. Even though the results haven't been great this spring, he wasn't concerned.
"I feel like I'll start kind of moving through Opening Day and continuing to trend upwards is my goal, as long as I stay healthy," Votto said. "I feel like, for me, my mechanics are a big part of my performance. The things I am working on right now are the same things that I worked on in June of last year and May of the year before. The months where I felt like I turned the corner the last couple of years, I'm trying to apply that right now. It's inevitable on how [bad] that's going to look [now], but that's the choice I made this year."
Votto, 33, won the 2010 NL MVP Award and after some injury-affected years in 2012-14, finished third in the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting in '15 and seventh in '16.
In 2015, Votto had a middling first half before turning it on after the All-Star break. His .362/.535/.617 slash line were all best in the Majors in the second half. Last season started out downright grim, as Votto was batting .213 on June 1. He finished the season batting .326/.434/.550 with 29 home runs and 97 RBIs, while leading the NL in on-base percentage, and ranking second in OPS and walks.
It took batting .408 after the break, making him the first player to bat .400 in a second half since Ichiro Suzuki did it for the Mariners in 2004.
"An ability to hold things together for a 162-game [stretch] is such a challenge in any part of this game," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "But I'm a believer that Joey could do it. It wouldn't surprise me to see him go start-to-finish with the type of on-base, line drive contact that he makes, the type of offensive dynamic that he brought to the field every game in that second half. Really, the last four months was a dominant performance. I think he's capable of doing that. If he did that, he'd be doing something that is special and rare."
Votto isn't just focused on being more consistent at the plate. The 2011 NL Gold Glove Award winner was ranked at or near the bottom in the Majors in some advanced statistical metrics on defense. He admitted he was lousy in the field and has worked on improving in the offseason and this spring.
"Defense is effort," Votto said. "It's behind the scenes, getting into the routine every day, on the field, keeping your mind on every play, not taking your hitting on to the field. I feel like last year, I wasn't at my very best. I feel like the difference between maximum effort and 99 percent is huge."
Collecting another NL MVP Award isn't at the forefront of Votto's mind.
"I just would really like to play really well," he said. "That's pretty much it."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.