Notes: Fast start for Votto; Castillo throws BP

March 8th, 2021

Former Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani hasn’t been away from the team very long since signing with the Giants during the offseason, but he saw something from former teammate on Sunday that he hadn’t seen in previous Spring Trainings.

Votto, Cincinnati’s longtime first baseman and a notoriously slow starter, was swinging away and having success, going 2-for-3 with a single, a double and a run scored in an eventual Reds loss. Facing DeSclafani in the first inning, he lined out to center field.

“In Spring Training, he works on a lot of different things,” DeSclafani said afterward. “There have been times in camps where I’ve never even seen him swing the first couple of games. I didn’t even know if he was going to swing or not, or just kind of take pitches. He’s got a different approach to the game, whether he’s working on his swing or learning the strike zone early in camp. You’re not sure what to expect, but I can see he’s out there swinging and all that stuff. It’s cool facing all those guys, and especially Joey, because he’s going to give you good feedback.”

Although Spring Training stats must be taken with a grain of salt, especially when the sample size is small, Votto’s early success should be viewed as encouraging. He is batting .444 through four games; he did not play in Monday’s game -- a 6-4 win over the Rockies.

Votto, 37, has endured three straight subpar seasons, and he batted .226/.354/.446 with 11 home runs and 22 RBIs over 54 games in 2020. Following a three-game benching starting on Aug. 25, when he was batting .191, he made an approach adjustment by being less selective while standing taller in the batter’s box. He hit eight homers over his final 29 games.

“Yeah, he looks different,” manager David Bell said on Monday. “I know that he's intentionally made some changes, and I think it's showing up. You look at the results and he's had some hits, which is always nice. Even if you've had the career he's had, to get off to a good start is always a good feeling, which is great. But I think it's pretty obvious that his approach at the plate is a little bit different than the last couple of years.”

Castillo faces hitters

On a practice field on Monday morning, faced hitters for the first time this year while throwing to teammates in batting practice. Castillo, who was behind schedule after getting to camp late because of travel issues from the Dominican Republic, threw 34 pitches to seven batters.

“I was working on my command of my pitches,” Castillo said via translator Jorge Merlos. “It was my first live BP, so I was just working around the zone and making sure I was getting everything right.”

The last Reds starter to not see action in a Cactus League game, Castillo is tentatively scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday vs. the Mariners.

Antone delivers three scoreless

Getting the start against Colorado on Monday at Salt River Fields, fifth-starter candidate pitched three scoreless innings with two hits (including an infield single), no walks and three strikeouts.

Last Wednesday, in his first spring outing, Antone pitched two scoreless innings with one hit against the Dodgers, but that outing was in relief. He liked getting to perform his starting routine before facing the Rockies.

“It’s nice to get it nailed down during Spring Training,” Antone said. “For example, last year [it was] like an hour before game time that I would start warming up. Today it was like 30 minutes, and I felt good. It’s nice to play around with the routine of starting and see what really works for you and how much time it takes just to nail that down before the season starts.”

Naquin healthy, fighting for a spot

Outfielder and non-roster invitee went 0-for-2 on Monday, snapping a three-game hitting streak in which he went 4-for-9 with a double. Overall, he is batting .250 in five games since signing a Minor League deal with Cincinnati on Feb. 18. He spent the past five seasons with Cleveland, often dealing with injuries.

As a rookie in 2016, Naquin batted .296/.372/.514 with 14 home runs in 116 games. but he hasn’t approached that level of production since then because of injuries to his left hamstring, right hip, left calf and a torn ACL in his right knee. In 2020 he spent time on the injured list with a hairline fracture of his big right toe and batted .218 with four homers in 40 games. He hopes those issues are finally behind him.

“Oh man, I feel great, 100 percent,” Naquin said. “It’s been a minute since I’ve been able to say that, kind of. I feel great moving around. I feel great in the box. It’s still early in it. Just everything all together, I’m obviously having a good time here as well with the transition.”

Naquin is trying to crack the 26-man roster as an extra outfielder but is facing stiff competition, as the 40-man roster carries several outfielders. That doesn’t deter his belief that he can make the team out of camp.

“For me, it’s on the field, man. If I’m healthy, I feel I can go out and make the time and just do my thing,” he said. “I try not to make too much of it. Just be healthy and help those guys win.”