CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto was hit near his right knee by a 96-mph fastball from Nationals reliever Ryan Madson and spent nearly two weeks trying to play through persistent discomfort. Finally, the Reds placed their first baseman on the 10-day disabled list with a lower right leg contusion on Friday.
The trip to the DL marks the first time for Votto, 34, since 2014. He thought his injury would get better quicker based on his experience with playing through pain.
"Sometimes, if I have a neck or back issue or anything along those lines, it just has a tendency to solve itself, and this is one of those things where as the game wore on, it got worse," Votto said on Friday. "The other day [vs. Cleveland], I hit a weak ground ball off of Brad Hand with a base open. It just was like, I don't remember having many at-bats like that in my career. And then not being able to field ground balls, not being able to run the bases. I felt like I was a shell of myself."
Outfielder Aristides Aquino was recalled from Double-A Pensacola to replace Votto on the roster. Votto, who is hitting .284/.422/.419 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs this season, started six of the last 10 games and came out early in four of those games after often limping around the bases and on defense.
The Reds are not happy with Madson, believing his pitch to Votto was intentional. Two Nationals players were hit by pitches in that game, including Bryce Harper by an 82-mph curveball from Austin Brice. Purpose pitches have been in the news lately, especially after Marlins pitcher Jose Urena received a six-game suspension from Major League Baseball this week for plunking Braves rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. on his elbow with a 97-mph fastball on the first pitch of the night.
Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman didn't believe league discipline would happen to Madson, who denied trying to hit Votto intentionally.
"That one was so subtle," Riggleman said. "When Acuna got hit, it was blatant. Come on, you just happen to throw the hardest fastball you've ever thrown in your life and it hits the guys after he's homered five days in a row?
"Madson could easily make a case, 'I didn't hit him on purpose.' We know very well he did. It infuriates me that he will never have to go to the plate be thrown at. He never will. He'll be in relief. Probably doesn't have an at-bat this year. Probably won't get one next year, so one of his teammates will have to take it. That's the way it is."
Votto also realized little could be done in terms of punishment.
"After they said they didn't mean to do it, I don't know what other route you can go," Votto said. "I don't care about that team, that pitcher. They don't matter to me. I care about being able to help this club win and perform well through the rest of the season."
Votto is eligible to return on Aug. 26, when the Reds takes on the Cubs, and it was important to him to get back in time for one game of Players' Weekend.
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"I'm hopeful. I have no other plan other than to work and be prepared to play the Sunday in Chicago and wear the Players' Weekend uniform and represent my country in a way with the Players' Weekend message and outfit," Votto said.
Barnhart gets first start at first base
Catcher Tucker Barnhart was given his first career start at first base in place of Votto in Friday's 2-1 victory over the Giants. Barnhart has logged three innings at the position, all of which came this season. Riggleman sent him a text Thursday morning informing him that he would be playing first base.
"I asked him if he was drinking already on an off-day," Barnhart said. "He followed it by saying, 'I'm serious, and you're playing first.' My son rolled me ground balls this morning in the basement with his little toy ball. So that got me really prepared."
Barnhart spent 30 minutes on the field Friday afternoon getting a tutorial from coach Freddie Benavides and taking ground balls. With the Reds well off pace in the National League Central, Riggleman felt he could risk playing someone out of position since he wanted both Barnhart and backup catcher Curt Casali in the lineup. Casali could also get starts at first base in the future.
"It may not go well. I don't know," Riggleman said. "You wouldn't want to do that two games out of first. One goes through his legs, and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night."
First big league promotion for Aquino
Aquino, 24, is the Reds' No. 16 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and was hitting .249/.313/.452 with 18 home runs in 107 games for Double-A Pensacola this season. He wasn't expecting his first promotion or to skip the Triple-A level.
"It's a dream come true," Aquino said via translator Julio Morillo. "They pulled me out of the game last night. In my mind [I said], 'Oh, they pulled me out of the game against the team I hit the best against.' After that, they told me, 'Hey, you're going to the big leagues.'"