CINCINNATI -- Reds first baseman Joey Votto turned 35 on Monday, but in a season where his production has dipped, he's done conceding that he's headed for a certain decline of offensive production as he advances in age.
"I probably made too many concessions, and I think I need to let that go," Votto said. "I get a bit ahead of myself at times thinking I'm going to lose things when really, I still have them. I think I'll show that correction."
That has appeared to be happening already. In the previous two games vs. the Padres, Votto hit home runs in back-to-back games that included a grand slam in Saturday's 12-6 win. That was his first homer since July 9, and it snapped a 36-game streak without clearing the fences.
A season after he hit 36 home runs, Votto entered the night with 11 homers this season and is flirting with coming in below his career-low total of 14 in 2012 when injury limited him to 111 games. Although his .421 on-base percentage leads the National League, he came in batting .283 with a .422 slugging percentage.
"I'm among the leaders in line-drive percentage and hard-hit balls, a lot of really good numbers. But I'm finding I'm not getting the power results," Votto said. "There's something to that mechanically. I'll hit the ball as hard as I've ever hit it any [of the] last few years, but it's a ball that is lower in trajectory or getting caught or turning into a single or a double. I've got to figure out a way to make that a ball that carries over the fence."
The data backs Votto's assertion. According to Statcast™, Votto's percentage of barreled balls has dropped from 9.1 percent in 2017 to 6.7 percent in '18. The average distance of his fly balls and line drives was 292 feet in '17 and 276 feet in '18. Specifically, on fly balls, he dropped from averaging 331 feet in distance last season to 323 feet this season.
When it comes to exit velocity, Votto has remained consistent with 87.6 mph in '17 and 87.9 mph in '18. But his launch angle has dipped from 14 percent to 13.
Votto is also hitting the ball more to the middle of the field this season, rather than exploiting the small dimensions in the corners. His rate of liners and fly balls to center field jumped from 34.6 percent in '17 to 46.2 percent in '18.
"I don't get the benefit of a ball in the gap because the defense is not concerned about a line drive or ground ball turning into a double or triple because I lack speed," Votto said. "So, I've got to figure out a way to place the ball in front of them or put the ball over their head. I feel like I'm headed in that direction."
Also affecting Votto was his being hit by a pitch near the right knee on Aug. 4 by then-Nationals reliever Ryan Madson. He spent two weeks trying to play through it before going on the disabled list Aug. 17-30. Madson now pitches for the Dodgers. Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman noted Votto has been bothered by a sore back, something that Votto denied.
"I don't think the calendar is going to be the thing that stops him," Riggleman said. "It will be continuing to battle these pitchers that decide if they're going to pitch to him or pitch around him. That's going to be a constant competition."
Votto, who is signed through 2023 with an option for '24, is considering changes to his offseason conditioning program but expects the real work to come in the cage and on the field in-season.
"I've never been one to think this is the sort of thing that can get solved in the offseason," Votto said. "It's the sort of thing you have to solve while you have the opportunity in front of you. I look forward to finishing strong, and I look forward to making adjustments and getting better. There's nothing that I've seen in my game that I feel like all of a sudden, I should be heading downhill. I look forward to the challenge."
Suarez excited to play in Japan
Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez was named Monday to be part of a group of Major League players to participate in the 2018 All-Star Tour with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in November. The announcement was made by MLB and the MLB Players' Association.
"For me, it was a big honor," Suarez said. "I'm honored to be a part of the Major League team, represent this jersey, this team. The Cincinnati Reds gave me the opportunity to go to Japan. It's big time for me. I feel so great, I feel happy. I'll enjoy the moment with my family in Japan."
Among those on the team are Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich and third baseman Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies. When he was asked to play, Suarez did not hesitate in answering.
"Right away, I said, 'Yes, I want to be there,'" Suarez said. "I want to know the Japanese guys, learn a little bit from that baseball. They play an exciting game over there. Good ballparks, good people."