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Rested Votto excited about Reds' additions

@m_sheldon
February 14, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Joey Votto, the longest-tenured Reds player, did something this offseason that he’s never done since he established himself as a Major Leaguer. When Votto arrived at camp early on Feb. 5, he ended a personal cleanse of sorts by staying away from baseball.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Joey Votto, the longest-tenured Reds player, did something this offseason that he’s never done since he established himself as a Major Leaguer. When Votto arrived at camp early on Feb. 5, he ended a personal cleanse of sorts by staying away from baseball.

“I had a great offseason,” the first baseman said on Friday. “I picked up a bat for the first time last week. It’s good to be back. I’m excited to compete. I’m excited to work. I’m excited, I’m motivated to play well. I’m motivated to be part of a winning team and to play every day. I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

While Votto took his time away to recharge, the Reds’ front office was busy spending money -- nearly $166 million -- for five free-agent acquisitions. Three additions -- Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama -- directly influence the lineup.

Those moves left Votto very pleased and more optimistic for 2020’s possibilities.

“Wow. I was shocked for sure and it seemed like it was one after the other. I was pleasantly surprised,” Votto said. “I think, like anybody who has watched this team over the last little bit, I think we’re excited about being competitive throughout the entire year. We have a very strong team this year. Obviously, people have to play very well. Players have to play well, have career years and stay healthy. But it’s a very good start.”

Votto, 36, was hard on himself about his 2019 performance, which provided a rare year with a sub-.800 OPS as he batted .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs after a previous down year in ’18. Over his 13-year career, he’s a .307/.421/.519 hitter. In ’17, Votto hit 36 homers with a NL-best 1.032 OPS, and he came up just short in a tight race for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, which went to Giancarlo Stanton.

The Reds won 75 games last season, missing the postseason for the sixth year in a row. The team really could have used Votto’s production as the club often struggled to score runs.

“It’s the worst season I’ve had in my career, pretty clearly. I don’t think it’s close,” said Votto, who debuted in the Majors during the 2007 season. “Everything went the wrong way.”

That prompted Votto to try something new for his offseason routine. He chose to mostly avoid baseball.

“I trained for sure. But I didn’t do any baseball stuff,” Votto said. “I needed to take some time away. I felt like it was really good because I’m motivated to put in that extra work, which is the most important part of Spring Training, the early part of the season. Putting in as much work as possible and then letting that carry through however long it takes for the rest of the season. That’s where my head is at.”

During the second half of last season, Votto made big adjustments and returned to an old approach that had worked for him in the past. Instead of a lower crouch in his batting stance and choking up on the bat, he stood more upright and held the bat near the knob.

After initially finding some success, he missed time on the injured list with a lower back strain in late August. He hit three homers over his final 29 games.

“I don’t really want to talk about last season, in general,” Votto said. “It was a poor effort. We played poorly as a team. I’m not trying to do the, ‘We’re looking forward’ sort of thing. I’ve discussed it so many times and don’t really want to rehash it. I’m excited about the challenge this year. I don’t think I’ve felt that in a long time.”

When Votto arrived in camp, he came ready to work and with one very lofty expectation.

“I needed to swing and throw and I needed to acclimate myself to the Arizona weather and the time zone,” Votto said. “I was going to go on a trip before I got here. But I decided against it because I didn’t want to deal with too much jet lag. I will have to save that for after we win the World Series.”

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.