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To improve, Votto has slippery path ahead

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Near the conclusion of many workouts at the Reds' spring complex, first baseman Joey Votto will be on a side field in his socks and doing what many kids would like to do each summer.

Votto is doing a slip and slide -- only without the cheap plastic tarp that can be purchased at most toy stores. A grounds crew worker instead has the hose out, spraying the grass to make it wet and very slippery.

"It's for little kids that don't know how to slide, which is perfect for me," Votto joked Wednesday.

It is not for fun, however. Votto is trying to come all the way back after he tore meniscus cartilage in his left knee sliding into third base on June 30. A first surgery repaired the injury, but a second procedure was needed when Votto reinjured the knee while practicing his slide.

In a break from instinct, Votto has been learning to slide on his other leg all spring. He works one-one-one with rookie-level Billings manager Pat Kelly on the technique.

"He has a reputation for being one of the great sliders all-time," Votto said of Kelly. "I'm sliding, and my knee feels good. It's been fine."

Reds manager Dusty Baker did not appear concerned whether Votto slid during a game.

"He's probably nervous; I won't be," Baker said. "I saw him slide about a month ago. I could tell he had been working. He wasn't a very good slider before. He would slow down to slide. He would be safe and make himself out. Now he's working on it because he doesn't want a weakness in his game. He's accelerating to slide, which is what you should do, not deaccelerate, which is what he used to do."

After he returned from the disabled list in September, Votto avoided doing any slides, as his knee was not 100 percent. That is not expected to happen this season.

"My goal is to play baseball, and I don't want to stand out," Votto said. "You don't stand out when you slide into bases, taking guys out, sliding into home plate, avoiding tags and doing whatever you can do to just fit in. That's the way I would like to play, and that's what I'm working towards."

This spring, Votto is batting .348 (16-for-46) with four home runs and 12 RBIs -- including a two-run homer to left-center field vs. the Padres on Wednesday.

The performances are not quite to Votto's satisfaction, but he has never appeared to have any lingering knee issues at the plate or in the field. He feels 100 percent ready for the regular season.

"I know I have good numbers, but I haven't hit very well," Votto said. "I'm headed in the right direction."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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