Votto's influence seen among Reds, and beyond

Votto's influence seen among Reds, and beyond

CHICAGO -- Joey Votto doesn't get a ton of extra attention as one of the best hitters in baseball, but the Reds' first baseman isn't working in a vacuum. Votto's teammates are watching, listening and, most importantly, learning.

"Basically everything I'm doing this year, I've watched him," Reds shortstop Zack Cozart said on Wednesday. "That's what I'm trying to implement into what I do. I've said it a thousand times, he's the best hitter in the game. You could poll people and when they talk about a guy who never gives away at-bats, he would be up at the top with almost everybody, I would think."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon underscored Cozart's point.

"Every pitch he's invested in and he makes adjustments," Maddon said. "He uses the whole field. He's playing on a different level now."

Cozart, 32, is having a career year for Cincinnati and became a first-time All-Star. While batting .312, his .401 on-base percentage is nearly 100 points better than his career .303 mark and his .580 slugging percentage is way above his .407 career number.

Known before this season as being an aggressive hitter who would swing early in counts, Cozart saw his pitches-per-plate appearance rate go from 3.72 last season to 4.21 this season entering Wednesday.

During Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Cubs, Votto extended his streak of reaching safely in a game at least twice to 20 consecutive games. Hall of Famer Ted Williams holds the 69-year-old modern day Major League record of reaching twice or more in 21 straight games from May 31-June 24, 1948, after Votto was unable to equal the mark in Wednesday's 7-6 loss.

"For me, it's not surprising," Cozart said. "He's constantly working on getting better at everything -- hitting, defense, whatever. Obviously he's a little older in age, but he's getting better because he's smarter. He studies the game so much."

Votto also leads the Majors this season in on-base percentage, OPS and walks.

"Everybody tries to select just one pitch to make contact. If that pitch isn't in his zone, he's not swinging," Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez said. "That's why he's really good. He's got a plan. It's 'If he throws me that pitch right here, no matter what it is, I'm making contact.' That's why he's so good. I try to do something like that."

Suarez's RBI single

Suarez, 26, is also having a nice year while batting .262/.373/.471 with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs. Much like Votto, Suarez has taken his ability to reach safely to new heights lately as well. Entering Wednesday, he had reached in 19 of his last 31 plate appearances, with 10 walks and a .613 on-base percentage.

Like Votto, Suarez is focused on making contact with pitches in the zone he likes and takes on pitches he's not looking for. He's ranked 10th in the Majors by seeing 4.24 pitches per plate appearance in 2017.

"He helped me a lot. We talked a lot," Suarez said of Votto. "He told me I have to learn what kind of hitter you are. That helped me a lot. I've done a really good job and I feel great."

Cubs players are also paying attention to Votto. The 2016 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, third baseman Kris Bryant, called the 2010 NL MVP his favorite non-Cubs player.

"I love watching him, I love talking to him," Bryant said. "He's a special player. I think he gets a lot of [grief] about his walks and working his at-bats and some people want him to swing more, but he does an unbelievable job and you know he's going to give you a great at-bat every time he's up there. He's definitely a guy I look up to and can learn from."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.