Votto eager to finish career strong in Cincinnati

August 29th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- At 38 years old, injured Reds first baseman Joey Votto is in the very early stages of rehabilitation from major left shoulder and biceps surgery. Votto is eager to prove he can still play at a high level -- to himself more than anybody else.

“I’m not trying to prove anybody wrong. I want to perform well. I’m excited about that,” Votto said Monday in his first comments since having surgery Aug. 19. “I’d like to have a strong finish to my career and be proud.”

When and where Votto’s career closes remains somewhat murky. The 2023 season is the final guaranteed year that remains on the 10-year, $225 million extension he signed in April 2012. There is a $20 million club option for '24 that has a $7 million buyout.

Votto has thought about the end of his contract and whether it lines up with his desire to continue playing.

“I’m addicted to performing, and that has never changed. So if I perform well, I will in all likelihood want to continue to play,” Votto said. “But I don’t like performing poorly. I don’t like embarrassing myself. I don’t like being a drag.

“I want to start and finish my career in the same uniform. That’s a priority for me. And I only have so many years left -- one, two, who knows how many I have left? I’d like to finish it in the same uniform. I think the pride part of me wants to tell the story. It’s hard to tell a story if you confuse the story, especially if the ending is confusing. I want to finish my career well, and hopefully the team plays well and I get to be part of a championship. That’s a little less in my control, but we’ll see how that goes.”

If there are no setbacks during the rehab process, Votto said he was told he could begin swinging a bat around the new year and that he should be able to start swinging aggressively near the start of Spring Training.

“I have to make sure I’m in a good way,” he said. “Of course, I want to play every game possible and make [the] Opening Day [roster]. I want to make sure I come back to perform and be able to play every game. The second I come back, I prepare in such a way that I’m going to play every game that I’m asked of through the end of the year.

“I’ve never had an injury and a rehab process like this. We’ll see how long it takes. You can’t cut corners.”

In 91 games this season, Votto batted .205/.319/.370 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs. He missed 15 games with COVID-19 and seven more with a back injury. By late June or early July, he was struggling to sleep because of the pain in his shoulder.

Votto finished his disappointing year in a career-high 0-for-22 slump and acknowledged he couldn’t even hit right-handed pitching anymore. Once he had the surgery, it proved to be even more complicated than originally anticipated.

“That made me feel good because I had real guilt before it,” Votto said. “I never like leaving the team or leaving the fan base. And I don’t like failing, so I felt real guilt, but I never want to feel like I quit. I feel relief that I was legitimately injured and it was justified.”

Beforehand, Votto felt “it just didn’t compute” why he was playing poorly.

“I can’t stand making excuses or even talking about this, but I do think there may have been a connection between my performance and my injury, but maybe not,” Votto said. “Honestly, maybe not. But we’ll find out. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to.”

Votto realizes he won’t get that answer until he starts playing again in 2023.

“That’s my hypothesis, but we have to test it,” Votto said. “If I play like this, I’m not going to be able to play anymore. There’s no question about that. This performance level is unsustainable. No one wants to give up a Major League roster spot to a player that performs like this. That’s clear. I’d become a bench player. I’d become a backup. I’d become a platoon player. As I sit here right now, I don’t view myself in that role.”