CINCINNATI -- By the time the Reds' season wraps up next week, many of first baseman Joey Votto's offensive numbers will finish in the same general vicinity of where they were in 2010 -- when he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. It was an incredible grind for Votto to make it that way. This was no easy season, by any stretch. "It was a very challenging year for me in a lot of different ways," Votto said. "But I generally feel I got better. I did more with less."
The Reds' elimination from postseason play will essentially negate any chances for Votto to repeat as the NL MVP. Had his team been more of a factor, closer scrutiny might be paid to Votto's credentials. His .313 average ranks fourth in the NL, and he leads the league in walks (108), on-base percentage (.423), batting average on the road (.346) and hitting with runners in scoring position (.386). Barring a final-week tear, the 28-year-old Votto's power numbers will be down from a year ago, when he had 37 home runs and 113 RBIs. He currently has 28 homers and 98 RBIs -- with more than half of his long balls, 15, coming on the road. Unlike 2010, when he batted .324 with a .424 OBP, Votto encountered something at the plate this year that he wasn't used to -- pitchers not throwing him as many strikes. And if he did get something to hit, it wasn't often the type of pitch he could drive. "No question, yes -- it was a big difference between this year and last year," Votto said. "I walked 91 times last year, but it was more along the lines of not getting a pitch to hit that I liked and eventually drawing a five- or six-pitch walk. This year, there have probably been 30-40 occasions where it's four pitches right away. I could just feel there wasn't a real good shot that there would be a pitch to hit. "That doesn't even give credit to how difficult a lot of the other at-bats were. I went through stretches where I got a ton of pitches to hit, but overall on the year, I didn't get much." Factor in that cleanup hitter Scott Rolen's production sagged because of a sore left shoulder that eventually required surgery and the struggles of No. 5 hitter Jonny Gomes before his July trade, and Votto didn't get a whole lot of protection in the lineup. Votto's strikeout total of 121 is close to the 125 he had last season, but he's gotten fed up and chased pitches out of the strike zone at times. Manager Dusty Baker felt Votto didn't get many pitches at the beginning of the season but noticed that opposing hurlers started running pitches in on his No. 3 hitter.
"It comes with the territory," Baker said. "Albert Pujols has been going through this for 10 years. Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron did. He's had a wonderful year. But when you're Billy the Kid, there are a lot of dudes gunning for you."
That was reflected in some of the rare instances that Votto endured some slumps. He had an extended funk coming out of the All-Star break, and he's currently in the midst of a 1-for-18 stretch, which included an 0-for-14 drought that was snapped with a single on Tuesday against the Astros.
"I know deep down I did quite a bit with not very much," Votto said. "It was a real struggle for me this year. It was a real adjustment. This was probably one of the biggest adjustments I've had since my rookie year coming to the big leagues. This year, at times, for a couple of months were the two stretches of slumps where I felt legitimately frustrated and pretty tired of the whole thing."
Votto is batting .244 in September, by far his lowest monthly split of a season in which he hasn't batted worse than .291.
Between being feted for numerous awards last offseason, Votto signed a three-year, $38 million contract in January and faced distractions to his offseason program. With Votto being owed $9.5 million in 2012 before receiving a jump to $17 million in '13, his final season before free agency, there has been media speculation that the first baseman could be traded while his cost is still relatively reasonable. Although there is no indication the Reds are looking to move Votto, it could conceivably become another unwanted distraction.
After one of the hardest seasons of his career, Votto plans to make the adjustments needed to stay a step ahead of pitchers.
"You have to come to Spring Training in good swinging shape with your body in shape and have a real good base," Votto said. "Honestly, this year, I was a little bit out of gas because of all the offseason stuff. I didn't come to camp in as good of shape as I probably would have hoped -- although I feel like I'm in very good shape now. Come Spring Training, I had been run ragged from all the things I had to do.
|"Honestly, this year, I was a little bit out of gas because of all the offseason stuff."|
|-- Reds first baseman Joey Votto|
"I was run down from it. Hopefully, next year, I learn from that mistake and come into camp in better shape."And that could give a few opposition pitchers something to think heading into their offseason.