Votto embraces new leading role

Votto embraces new leading role

CINCINNATI -- First baseman Joey Votto noticed a swarm of baseball writers by his locker on Wednesday afternoon and knew why it was there.

"They want to talk to Rickey," Votto joked.

He meant Rickey, as in Henderson -- the most prolific leadoff hitter in history and the consummate third-person talker. Votto, the polar opposite of Henderson in terms of self-promotion, was hours away from his first foray into the lineup's top spot.

"Rickey Votto," catcher Javier Valentin said.

"I can't remember ever doing it," the rookie Votto said of batting first.

Ever since Jerry Hairston Jr. fractured his thumb on June 9 and went on the disabled list, manager Dusty Baker hasn't had much success finding someone who can consistently lead off. Although Votto has a high on-base percentage, his power-hitting style makes him an odd fit for leading off.

Baker felt as though he had no other option.

"Corey [Patterson] wasn't getting on base. And [Jay] Bruce was struggling some," Baker said. "It's just a temporary thing. [On Thursday], we'll do something else against a lefty."

Patterson is batting .193 this season, and Bruce entered the night in a 0-for-15 slump.

According to Votto, Baker didn't give him much advice about how to go about batting leadoff.

"He said to do the same thing I always do, but just do it from the leadoff spot," he said. "If he feels like putting me in the first spot helps the offense, I'll do my best. The lineup is a crazy thing. I don't think putting me in the No. 1 spot makes that much of a difference. Hopefully, it does."

Votto was jokingly asked if he'd become a drag bunter and base-stealer or be like Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, who swiped second and third base against the Reds during one at-bat last weekend.

"Pay attention. I expect to steal second, third and steal home. Jeez, no," he joked.

In his previous 68 games this season, Votto batted most in the seventh spot (36 times). Overall, he came in batting .279 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs.

Votto went 1-for-4 during the Reds' 6-1 loss to Los Angeles on Wednesday. In the first inning, he lined a broken-bat single to left field but was erased when Jolbert Cabrera grounded into a double play.

Baker projects Votto as a future middle-of-the-order hitter. Right now, the stats show that Votto is best from the seven-hole, where he's batting .328 this season. The average dips to .186 in the six-spot, .267 in the fifth spot and .154 batting cleanup.

"He might not be quite ready to move up like we all want him to," Baker said. "I explained to him that I wasn't crazy about batting seventh one year, and I hit 30 home runs that year. It's a very important part of my lineup. You can't have too many low-average guys at the bottom of your lineup. Otherwise, you make it too easy."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.