Votto finds form to back Wood's first Reds win

Veterans provide hope for club's postseason potential

August 3rd, 2019

ATLANTA -- For much of 2019, Cincinnati has been waiting for to hit like the six-time All-Star and former National League Most Valuable Player Award winner he is.

For all of it, the Reds have waited for to pitch like the starter they hope he can be.

On Friday night at SunTrust Park, they got a glimpse of both.

Wood earned his first win as a member of the Reds, while Votto went 2-for-3, including his 11th homer, reached three times, scored twice and drove in three runs, keying a quick-strike offense in Cincinnati's 5-2 win over Atlanta.

“[Wood] had more velocity today,” said bench coach and acting manager Freddie Benavides, stepping in for the suspended David Bell. “I think he’s just getting stronger. He did a great job today, got deep in the game. We were only able to use two bullpen arms today, so that helps a lot.

“It’s great for him, too. It’s tough when pitchers are on the [injured list] early in the year, and they are trying to come back and they’re trying to prove a lot of things. He pitched well the first time out. He didn’t go as deep as he did today. Today, he was like Woody.”

“[The ball’s] jumping off [Votto’s] bat, really the past couple of weeks,” added Benavides. “He’s been working really hard with [hitting coach] Turner [Ward] and [assistant hitting coach] Donnie [Ecker], and you’re starting to see it. It was big, that two-run homer in the first.”

Wood, who was acquired in a seven-player offseason trade with the Dodgers but had been hampered by back issues, went 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs -- both on homers -- on four hits, striking out five while walking one.

The 28-year-old right-hander improved his career record to 3-3 against Atlanta, which drafted him in the second round of the 2012 Draft, and he is now 3-0 at SunTrust Park. More importantly, he pounded the strike zone, throwing 60 of his 93 pitches for strikes.

“That felt like me tonight,” said Wood, who gave the team a momentary scare in the seventh inning, when he shook off a cramp that appeared to affect his left arm. “It’s a chess match. That’s my favorite part about starting is you game plan for these guys and then you make adjustments throughout the game based on how you see their approach. I thought we had a good game plan. I thought [catcher] Kyle [Farmer] did an unbelievable job behind the dish calling the game. They’re tough to plan for so I attacked and got ahead early, got some quick innings in the first, second and third, and I felt good. It felt good.”

Votto is also feeling good. He hit .244 with two homers and 11 RBIs in Cincinnati’s first 20 second-half games, but on Friday, he recorded his third multi-hit game in the past five and homered in his third game in the past 10.

“I feel completely different. I feel much more like myself,” said Votto. “This is the style I used from when I was a rookie until maybe a couple of years ago. I made the adjustment. So we’ll see how this rolls.”

Ironically, the tipping point was when the veteran first baseman, the most patient hitter on the team and maybe in the Majors -- his 1,151 walks rank second among active players -- ran out of patience with his second-half production power-wise.

“No homers prompted it,” Votto said. “I got a little bit tired of my best swings getting caught on the track. So I made an adjustment.”

Starters have had trouble adjusting to the quick-strike offense of Cincinnati, which leads the Majors in first-inning runs scored, home runs, RBIs, batting average and slugging percentage.

On Friday, they needed only four pitches -- two for left fielder Jesse Winker to single to center, and two more to Votto, who homered to jump out to a 2-0 lead.

“We’re thinking about getting our best swings off as often as possible,” Votto said. “If the pitcher leaves the first inning or whatever inning with 15 pitches but we snag four runs, we don’t care about that exchange. We’re just trying to get our best swings off and do damage.”

The Reds entered Friday with a .788 winning percentage when leading after the first inning (26-7), second-best in the National League (behind the Dodgers) and fourth-best in the Majors (behind the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros). Make that .794.

Prior to Friday’s game, Bell more than hinted that the Reds are thinking playoffs.

“The expectations for how good we believe we’re going to be have really started to grow,” Bell said. “We’re not where we want to be yet. We have a long way to go, but it’s happening really fast and that can happen to where we benefit from that this year and get to where we need to be by the end of this year -- that’s the playoffs.”

While it’s a goal that is difficult -- they are seven games back of NL Central-leading St. Louis and 6 1/2 games out of the final Wild Card spot with six teams to jump -- it becomes more possible with a consistent Wood rounding out the rotation and a red-hot Votto producing at the top of the order.

Friday might have been the breakout game for both and the spark the Reds have waited for.