Votto's pragmatic take on rehab: 'I didn’t sign up for easy'

January 5th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- The opening of Spring Training is right around the corner. When the Reds gather in Goodyear, Ariz., in mid-February, will first baseman be fully ready to go? As he continues his rehabilitation from major surgery on his left shoulder and biceps, Votto wasn't completely sure.

Votto spoke to Tommy Thrall and me on Wednesday evening during the Reds Hot Stove League radio show.

“I’d say I'm not willing to make that prediction, just because I don’t know,” Votto said. “I don’t know. I’ve never experienced anything like this, and I try to manage my expectations. I’m hopeful. I’m always hopeful, of course, but that’s where my head is at.”

Votto, 39, had surgery on Aug. 19 after he tore his rotator cuff and biceps and missed the final 46 games of what was already a trying season. He resumed swinging a bat in late November. Recently, he posted a video on Instagram of him taking more aggressive swings.

However, it sounded as if his shoulder's recovery wasn't without some frustration.

"Some progress, I would say. It’s going to take time, I’m realizing now,” Votto said. “I just started hitting off a machine a little bit, but it’s not quite there. I’ve been told by people that I’m doing very well in my rehab, but there is a difference between doing well and being ready for a Major League game, if that makes sense.”

What has hitting again felt like?

"Much pain, frustration," Votto said. "I don't know how to describe it other than I don't feel 100 percent. I'm coming back from a surgery. There's not much more to say other than that."

Votto batted .205 with a .689 OPS with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs in 91 games -- all career lows -- in 2022. He is entering the final year of his 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed in '12. There is a $20 million club option for '24, with a $7 million buyout.

In 2021, Votto slugged 36 homers with 99 RBIs in 129 games. He still believes he can return to that level of success and hit the ball hard without compromising his technique.

"I was told I should get back to 100 percent, and that's where my head is at. I've been told -- not only from the doctors but also other athletes that have experienced it -- that it takes time. It can be frustrating at times. I do expect to get back to 100 percent. As far as adjustments to technique, truly I didn’t play well enough to even justify a starting job. So the idea of reducing my mechanics or technical changes, I don't think that's sustainable, because I wouldn't be able to play well enough."

Votto did not detail which athletes he's been in contact with. But he noted he was told to keep plugging away, even though it hasn't been an easy process to this point.

"That’s OK. I didn’t sign up for easy, I signed up for healthy," Votto said. "I’m looking forward to playing. I miss playing. I miss playing well. I think that with two healthy arms, I’m going to be able to play well again. I don’t have very much doubt about that."

Votto, who hits left-handed but throws right-handed, has not been doing much work on the defensive side.

“My arm is not completely ready,” Votto said. “I can catch a ball, don’t get me wrong, but as far as being more aggressive, diving, fielding -- I’m not quite there yet. I’m able to do some of the basics, but not the extreme.”

The Reds signed outfielder/first baseman Wil Myers on Dec. 22 and catcher Tyler Stephenson can also play first base if Votto is not ready for the season. Votto was not planning on taking a role as a designated hitter and expects to be the everyday first baseman.

"If my arm is not ready to field, then it's not ready to hit," Votto said. "I view catching the ball as the easier step. I view hitting as the hardest step. I should be ready defensively before offensively."

Votto has done some traveling this offseason, including going to a Formula 1 race in Texas and taking a vacation in Argentina, but he kept up with his rehab and workouts while away. He's been mostly at home since Nov. 1.

"Most of the time, really, I've been locked in on rehabbing," Votto said. "It is time- and energy-consuming. That's where most of my time has been."