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Votto gearing up for return to form in 2019

Six-time All-Star working on conditioning, hitting this offseason
MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto may have had a 2018 season that he'd like to forget, but the first baseman didn't let go of it even after playing in the Reds' 162nd game. No, Votto instead ruminated on what went wrong and is determined to make '19 a vast improvement.

Votto batted .284/.417/.419 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs in 145 games last season. Those would be respectable numbers for many players, but to him, it was a disappointment -- to put it mildly -- especially after he nearly won the National League MVP Award for the second time with a superlative 2017.

CINCINNATI -- Joey Votto may have had a 2018 season that he'd like to forget, but the first baseman didn't let go of it even after playing in the Reds' 162nd game. No, Votto instead ruminated on what went wrong and is determined to make '19 a vast improvement.

Votto batted .284/.417/.419 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs in 145 games last season. Those would be respectable numbers for many players, but to him, it was a disappointment -- to put it mildly -- especially after he nearly won the National League MVP Award for the second time with a superlative 2017.

"Last year, I felt so out of sync with my game," Votto said as he signed autographs on Saturday at Redsfest at Duke Energy Convention Center. "I've said it before, but I felt a step behind all year. Normally, I feel a step ahead every day all year. So I'm doing everything I can to make sure I am prepared both physically and mentally. I am making sure I am completely ready for this coming year."

Tweet from @Reds: Looks like @locatejared got his hands on the newest Elf on the Shelf prototype.#Redsfest pic.twitter.com/tAEArrljFF

When diagnosing his 2018 shortcomings, the 35-year-old Votto determined he needed to do more conditioning work.

"I wasn't quite where I should have been," Votto said. "That's something I am for sure trying to shore up. It's not like I dogged it or anything, but there are levels to it. If I was 99 percent ready, to be at your very best you need to be at 99.9 percent. I would never have once come into Spring Training and a Major League season without feeling like I'm ready. There are really extremes. I do feel like that's something I fell short on."

Two seasons ago, Votto just missed winning the NL MVP Award when he finished just two points behind winner Giancarlo Stanton. It was a year in which he started all 162 games and batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 homers and 100 RBIs.

Last season, Votto had his lowest homer total save for the injury-plagued 2014 season when he was limited to 62 games and cleared the fences only six times. He was also hobbled when Nationals right-hander Ryan Madson hit him in the right knee with a fastball on Aug. 4. By the middle of the month, Votto went on the disabled list for two weeks with a lower right leg contusion.

Video: CIN@WSH: Votto gets plunked by Madson in the 8th

But well before the injury, there were uncharacteristic stretches. Votto did not drive in a run for 18 straight games over May and June -- the longest streak of his career. He also went without a home run between July 9 and Sept. 8.

A six-time All-Star, including last season, and the 2010 NL MVP Award winner, Votto likes to identify areas where he can improve during each offseason. A couple of winters ago, he aimed to improve his defensive skills. Last year, he really wanted to get better at baserunning.

This winter, besides his conditioning, Votto is returning his focus to the area that made him an elite player in the game: hitting.

"Offensively was just so bad for me last year. It wasn't fun," Votto said. "I normally play at a certain level that's fun, but last year, I felt like I was walking all through mud. It was confusing and frustrating. I don't want to feel that way again, and I don't expect to."

What's next in Votto's offseason? Work, and more work.

"For me, it takes several months of training and preparation," Votto said. "Spring Training should feel easy. That's my goal, to come to Spring Training and that it's less work. … Especially in a year where we're going to experience more meetings -- I'm sure there's going to be a new strategy and interactions with the hitting coaches, pitching coach and the manager -- there's a lot to take in. I want to make sure the physical side is easy."

Tweet from @Reds: OOZING WITH EXCITEMENT!#Redsfest pic.twitter.com/XmIQcHndvU

In October, the Reds hired David Bell to be their manager, and the coaching staff will be nearly all new. Bell will be the sixth skipper that Votto has played for since he debuted in the Majors in 2007.

Admitting it's not always easy to start again with another manager, Votto spoke with Bell on Friday during Redsfest.

"I told David that I hope he's the last manager I play for," Votto said. "I'm hoping that whether it's 5-6 more years or however long I end up playing, I truly hope this next stretch of Reds baseball is exciting and championship caliber. I feel that at some point, the page has to be turned and we have to go into a different direction. I hope that David is at the helm for that."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto