Joey Votto isn’t a sure bet to be ready on Opening Day, but the Reds' first baseman is going to give it a shot.
Votto returned to the lineup on Friday for the first time since March 7 and played five innings with three plate appearances during Cincinnati's 7-3 victory over the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. He missed 12 days of camp because he tested positive for COVID-19.
“It felt great to be back. I feel a little bit rusty, but that will pass pretty quickly,” said Votto, who was 0-for-2 with a fourth-inning walk and a run scored.
Votto, 37, struck out swinging in the first inning and was called out on strikes to end the fifth. He felt it would not take long to get back up to speed.
“I just need to make sure that I can comfortably do all the aspects of the game over and over and over again,” Votto said. “I’ll end up playing again [Saturday] and just continue to work, and we’ll see how I progress. But one day at a time. Today was a good step in the right direction.”
Manager David Bell has avoided setting a target return date for Votto, who remains on the injured list. Utility players Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino and non-roster invite Nicky Delmonico could play first base if Votto isn’t ready.
Votto isn’t giving up on the idea of playing on Opening Day, however.
“Well, I’m trying to push myself,” Votto said. “There’s three things, like, I have to help the team. Can’t get hurt, and I can’t embarrass myself. So, once I can get to that point, then I feel like I’ll be ready to play. But again, today was Day 1, and I felt nowhere near ready. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t come along quickly. I’ll just keep working.”
On Wednesday, Votto took batting practice at the team complex in Goodyear, Ariz., then went to Goodyear Ballpark to watch that evening’s 6-5 loss to the Rangers. It’s rare for veterans to do that when they’re not in the lineup.
“I had an opportunity to watch the starters hit, and I just wanted to see how [Eugenio] Suárez was doing, and [Mike] Moustakas, and the rest of the crew,” Votto said. “I want to see them all do well. For us to be a good team this year, I think we’re going to have to have a long lineup, and do it collectively, so I don’t know.
“I feel like I’m cheering on the group in general, because if we play well together, we’ll do good things together. There’s no reason why we can’t be a successful offense. It’s not going to be habit of mine, going to watch the games that I’m not a part of.”
Strange-Gordon among cuts
The Reds made four cuts that brought their spring roster down to 39 players. Most significant among them was non-roster infielder Dee Strange-Gordon, who was released. Also released was lefty reliever Jesse Biddle, while lefty Brandon Finnegan and catcher Rocky Gale were reassigned to Minor League camp.
Strange-Gordon was signed to a Minor League contract Feb. 11 with the hope he could compete for the vacancy at shortstop. Although Strange-Gordon batted .281 and stole four bases, the team’s circumstances changed when Suárez was moved from third base to shortstop and Jonathan India, Cincinnati's No. 5 prospect, emerged as the leading contender for second base.
Finnegan earned his way into big league camp from Minor League camp as he allowed one unearned run in five innings over his first three Cactus League games. But he struggled to get through his past two games to damage his chances of making the Opening Day roster.
“I felt good. It was definitely a step in the right direction,” Gray said after he faced teammates Tyler Stephenson, Moustakas and Mark Payton, among others.
Gray expects that his next bullpen session will be Monday, and he could pitch in another simulated game on Wednesday in Cincinnati. He was optimistic he will be ready for the regular season relatively soon.
“Definitely after today, yes,” Gray said. “I think we’re in a good spot. Now I’ve got to get in games. I’ve got to get my pitch count built up. Where that pitch count is, I can’t sit here right now and say I want to get through 100 pitches. I don’t know exactly where that will be.”
Miley pleased with performance
While admitting he didn’t feel his best on the mound Friday, Reds lefty Wade Miley allowed one run on four hits and one walk over four innings.
“A little dead arming a little bit. But no pain,” said Miley, who walked one and struck out three. “Felt good, was able to make some pitches. I fell behind a little more than I would like. Really was encouraged by the fourth inning, the last inning I threw, I got a little aggressive.
“I wanted to get aggressive and throw some cutters. I really liked the way those came out of my hand, so really, a positive step forward. Obviously had a little setback [with my left hamstring] earlier in camp, but I threw four [innings] and 70 pitches, so that’s the right direction.”