Votto working out with Reds, moving in right direction

May 22nd, 2023

CINCINNATI -- After spending time hitting against pitchers in live batting practice with Triple-A Louisville recently, injured Reds first baseman was back working out with the club on Monday at Great American Ball Park.

Votto took more live BP, this time against Reds assistant pitching coach Alon Leichman. He also took ground balls and practiced scooping balls at his position. The only missing piece from the afternoon was a discernible sign of when the 39-year-old might take the next significant step in his efforts to return from left shoulder surgery.

“I will continue to take live BP," Votto said when asked if he might soon start a rehab assignment again at Louisville. “I’m healthier, stronger and moving towards what I think is a repeatable [feeling] -- just generally feeling healthier."

Votto, who is still rehabilitating from the Aug. 19 surgery that repaired tears in his rotator cuff and biceps, felt he was getting to where he needed to be. He was also pleased with the improved range of motion in his shoulder.

“Oh yeah, incomparable," said Votto, who endured the worst offensive season of his career in 2022 while batting .205 with a .689 OPS and 11 home runs in 91 games. "I’m not quite game-ready yet, but I’m going to continue to take [live BPs], and that will help move me in that direction.”

Votto also felt good about where he was with his fielding work.

“That’s getting a lot better, too," he said.

Manager David Bell wanted to speak with Votto personally after the latest live BP before voicing thoughts on what could come next. Bell has noted frequently this season that the decision on when Votto could begin a new rehab assignment is a day-to-day thing.

Votto hasn't played in games with Louisville since his rehab assignment was halted on April 15 after he batted .184 (7-for-38) with one home run, five RBIs, six walks and 21 strikeouts across 10 games.

In the final guaranteed year of his 10-year, $225 million contract, Votto spent Spring Training aiming to be ready in time for Opening Day. After that didn't happen, he eventually moved his effort to the rehab assignment at Louisville.

There still remains optimism that Votto could return to the Reds this season. He has a $20 million club option for 2024 that carries a $7 million buyout.

“I didn’t lose optimism when I shut it down. It was just ambitious at the time," said Votto, who was transferred to the 60-day injured list on May 15.

While Votto has been at Louisville, he's gotten the chance to see some of the organization's top prospects do impressive things. That included MLB Pipeline's No. 4 overall prospect, shortstop Elly De La Cruz, and Cincinnati’s No. 7 prospect, corner infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand.

"Very exciting times for our position-player side with Elly and Christian Encarnacion-Strand," Votto said. "The two position players that most people are talking about I got to see on a consistent basis, and they’re performing well. More importantly, they’re getting better daily and making smaller adjustments that I think are repeatable here. There’s a chance they could play every day here."