"The first few innings were a little tough," Votto admitted. "About the fourth or fifth inning on, I could just kind of be my old self and just focus on the team and what I could do to help the team."
The final score indicated the outcome was close, but with just six hits, it was clear that much work needs to be done to rehabilitate a slumping Reds offense. Cincinnati batted .217 in the 22 games while Votto was away, and the club went 8-13 during that stretch.
Blue Jays lefty Brian Tallet gave up only three singles over six scoreless innings while being staked to a 6-0 lead. Tallet (5-4) came in with a 4.68 ERA and was working on just three days' rest.
Reds starter Micah Owings was susceptible to mistakes as he gave up three home runs. They were among the season-high six runs allowed over his 5 2/3 innings pitched with two walks and one strikeout.
"He wasn't wild today. He was almost in the strike zone too much, at the wrong time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Owings (4-8) saw his 0-2 fastball over the plate to Scott Rolen get deposited over the left-field wall leading off the Toronto second inning. It was a 3-0 score with one out in the fourth when Owings left a 79-mph pitch dangling over the zone for Rod Barajas to hit for a solo homer. After Barajas reached on an infield hit with one out in the sixth, there were two outs when Marco Scutaro jumped on a high-and-inside 2-2 changeup and put it just over the left-field wall for a two-run homer and a 6-0 game.
"Those three pitches, sometimes you get away with them, sometimes you don't," Owings said of the home runs. "I didn't, and it hurt. That's what good hitters do. They capitalize on mistakes, and those were mistakes."
Frequent to early high pitch counts, Owings had 102 pitches in Tuesday's game. He has been unable to work more than six innings in his past seven starts since May 12 at Arizona.
"We didn't want to go through our whole bullpen on the first day of the road trip," Baker said. "We were hoping he could get through that last inning prior to the home run by Scutaro. That ended up being the game-winner."
Cincinnati perked up after reliever Shawn Camp took over, loading the bases with a Brandon Phillips leadoff single and back-to-back walks. Against lefty Jesse Carlson, Jay Bruce hit a two-run double into the right-field corner. Adam Rosales and Chris Dickerson added back-to-back sacrifice flies to make it a two-run game. The teams traded runs in the bottom of the seventh and top of the eighth.
With only four Minor League games under his belt from a rehab assignment, Votto appeared to be a little rusty.
"Yeah, but he's still better than most," Baker said. "That rust won't be there too long. It was great having Joey out there. He swung the bat pretty good, considering he hadn't played in a while. He's going to get better every day."
In the first inning, Votto struck out on an 83-mph changeup from Tallet. In the fourth, he sent a first-pitch fastball into left field for a softly lined single. Tallet got Votto with another changeup in the sixth. Against reliever Brandon League in the eighth, Votto grounded out to the shortstop.
"I felt fine. My swing felt good," Votto said. "I missed some pitches. I'm not going to say I'm rusty, but it's a little different hopping out in front of a big league pitcher than hitting batting practice and playing against A-ballers."
Unlike playing with a sore oblique or tight hamstring, Votto will be playing with a condition that's day-to-day in ways that aren't as apparent to the public. He was optimistic that each day wouldn't be a struggle as he gets more comfortable playing again.
"I hope that today was one of the last days of me getting over that mental block, but we'll see," Votto said.