'Pure, unbelievable hitter': Votto snaps skid with game-deciding HR

July 4th, 2023

WASHINGTON --  hasn't had many hits since returning to the Reds two weeks ago. But when Votto does come through, he does it in a big way. 

It happened again in Monday's 3-2 Reds victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park, as Votto's two-run home run in the fourth inning proved the difference in the game.

“I have felt good. It’s been frustrating," Votto said. "Any time you go through a cold spell, especially early, it can be a bit irritating. You want to be chill at the plate, you want to feel good about yourself. But when you feel like you’re coming from behind, that can be daunting at times."

Votto was in an 0-for-21 skid, one at-bat shy of his career high from Aug. 10 until he ended his '22 season on Aug. 16 to have left shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and biceps.

The team wasn't worried about the 39-year-old Votto, who’s certainly looking and feeling much younger than that, showing up to his postgame on-field interview with his hat backwards and shirt untucked (“This is what young and hip people do,” he said). And the metrics are bearing out a vintage version of Votto, too; his exit velocity on contact has been good, and swings haven't been limited by mobility issues.

"I’ve seen really good signs and really good swings," Reds manager David Bell said. "When you feel good physically and feel like you’re taking good swings, and all his pregame work and everything -- I know he feels really great -- and then when you’re not getting the results, even for Joey, that can make you press a little bit.

"And getting a result, especially when it contributes to a win like that, was big for Joey."

The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the second inning against Nationals starter Jake Irvin on Tyler Stephenson's two-out RBI single to left field. On Sunday at Great American Ball Park vs. the Padres, it was Stephenson who pinch-hit for Votto and hit the game-winning two-run homer in a 4-3 victory.

In the fourth inning against Irvin, Elly De La Cruz hit a leadoff single to left field. Two batters later with one out, Votto lifted a 1-1 fastball down the middle to the opposite field for a two-run homer and a 3-0 Reds lead.

"We've always known Votto, he's a really good player, he's going to compete," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "You make a mistake, you're going to pay. I don't care if it's hitting .120, .350 -- he's a pure, unbelievable hitter. He's been for years. [Irvin] left the ball out over the plate and up, the one pitch that he made a mistake on all day, and he paid."

Votto is batting .154 with a .760 OPS and six hits in 47 plate appearances. Four of those hits were home runs. He’s also struck out 15 times and walked five.

“The only thing that’s bothered me so far is the uptick in strikeouts, but that’s not going to last," Votto said. "I’ve got the skill and the ability, and I have the health to be able to control that. I can say with some confidence that it will go down. Once that gets into a certain range, then everything falls into place. I trust my ball-in-play skills."

Reds starting pitcher Luke Weaver pitched five-plus innings, and unlike recent starts, avoided first-inning trouble. Weaver allowed two earned runs and six hits in his start.

Although he has struggled lately, the Reds have won each of Weaver's past seven starts while scoring 54 runs. In this game, it was Votto who picked him up.

"When he’s in the box, you feel like something can happen at any moment. It did tonight," Weaver said. "It’s just great to have him back and have that veteran leadership with a bunch of young guys out there.”

In Votto's first game back, June 19 vs. the Rockies, he slugged a homer, and his two-run single provided the winning runs in a 5-4 victory. On June 23 in the Reds’ 11-10 win over Atlanta, he slugged two more homers with four RBIs but was upstaged when De La Cruz hit for the cycle

The hitless stretch began one game later. But the Reds have continued to win. At 46-39, they have won 17 of their last 21 games. It's important for Votto to be a contributor among the many different hitters who seem to regularly come up big. 

"When the momentum of the team is moving in a certain direction, you want to continue to be the wind behind the sails sort of thing," Votto said. "In my head, I’m thinking all the time about, 'How can I be productive? How can I help?' And I will. I can say with a high degree of confidence that I will, as long as I remain healthy and I keep working every single day."