Votto 'working toward health,' not return date

March 1st, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds Spring Training games have started without and not only is there no timetable for when the first baseman will play this spring, it's not yet known if he can get ready in time for Opening Day.

"I don’t want to answer that question," Votto said on Wednesday between hitting sessions in the cage. "I’m working toward health, being able to perform. I’ve got nothing on my mind but working toward that."

Votto, 39, has been rehabilitating since he had surgery on Aug. 19 that repaired tears in both the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder.

Since arriving at camp last week, Votto has been participating in most drills, including defense, and taking batting practice. He has not faced pitchers in live batting practice yet.

Votto also continues to go through physical therapy on his shoulder and feels like he has more range of motion but declined to answer whether he was pain-free.

"I’ve been making good progress. I’m very happy with the progress," Votto said.

It appears that there are still more boxes to check, however, before Votto will be cleared to get into games or start thinking about the regular season.

"I have to be in a place where I can handle the awkward moments, the rundowns, the dives, check swing, ball off the end of the bat, whatever it is, somebody throwing the ball past me, full range of motion, full finish, getting fooled on a pitch," Votto said. "These are all things that are a part of the game every single day. If I’m not ready for that, then I’m significantly increasing my re-injury risk. And I’m not thinking about that. It’s not like I’m hedging against re-injury. I just know I want to come back and play well, and I want to play every day. I want to perform.

"I want to make sure when I come back, I come back ready. It’s not more complicated than that. If that’s Opening Day, if I start coming back and playing tomorrow, so be it."

Entering the final year of a 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed in 2012, Votto is coming off the worst year of a Major League career that began with Cincinnati in 2007. In 2022, he batted .205 with a .689 OPS, 11 home runs and 41 RBIs in 91 games.

Among the contingencies to get time at first base are right fielder and catcher should Votto open the season on the injured list. Reds manager David Bell still hasn't ruled out Votto's availability for Opening Day, which is March 30 vs. the Pirates at Great American Ball Park.

“I don’t have confidence or a lack of confidence that will happen," Bell said. "With Joey, I just trust it. Nothing would surprise me. I don’t have any more information today. I’m just letting it play out. When he comes back, he’s going to be ready to play well. Obviously, we’re all hoping for that to be soon. But I want what’s best for Joey and our team. His plan, whatever that’s meant to be, will work out the way it’s supposed to.”

Worth noting

• In his first spring start, pitched two innings in a 14-14 game against the A's and allowed two earned runs on three hits with one walk, two strikeouts, one wild pitch and hit a batter. A couple of balls were hit hard but Ashcraft still felt good about the outing. He focused mostly on executing the slider he's been working on during camp.

"It’s come a long way. I threw 10 out of 15 [sliders] over the plate for strikes. It’s hard to complain," Ashcraft said. "We’ve still got a little bit to go with it. We’re going to see what happens with it.”

• In the top of the third inning against the A's, Reds reliever struck out the side. Gibaut has struck out all six of the batters he's faced in two games this spring.

• Myers was scratched from Wednesday's lineup because of lower back stiffness. Myers was replaced at first base by Alex McGarry.