The elusive Joey Votto was in the clubhouse briefly early Thursday afternoon and several teammates were ecstatic to see him.
"Joey Votto is in the house," exclaimed first baseman/catcher Brayan Pena as he passed Votto’s locker, where the disabled Cincinnati Reds first baseman was slipping into a pair of workout shorts.
Votto, the subject in some quarters of questions as to the extent of his left knee injury and when he might possibly return, talked briefly with a few writers.
He didn’t speak angrily and he didn’t raise his voice, but the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player is not happy with some of things he had heard and read. And he made it known in a quiet, low-key manner.
Votto was asked if he was making certain he was completely healthy before he returns instead of returning too soon and possibly having another relapse.
"Let’s make it clear here," he said. "This is a real gray area and I feel like I’ve been the one in the crosshairs. I’ve been injured and this is something I’ve had hanging over me in the general population, with the fans.
"The question is whether it is toughness or playing through pain or playing hurt sort of thing," he said. "I’m injured. And I’ve played injured. I went on the disabled list because I’ve been injured.
"I’m trying to be un-injured right now," he added. "So the second I’m capable of playing, and no longer injured, I will be back on the field. In the meantime, you can assume I’m injured. I shouldn’t get any sort of different treatment (from the fans). I’ve noticed little comments here and there, just a general perception that this is something I elected to do, that I elected to be hurt.
"I didn’t elect to get injured. I’m injured. What can I do?" he said.
Votto first visited the DL on May 21 with his injured left knee and came back June 10. He obviously was not himself, he obviously was playing hurt, then lapsed back onto the DL July 8 and has been there since.
He is on the 60-day DL and isn’t eligible to return until Sept. 4 and both Votto and the Reds are trying to make that happen.
"At some point I’ll be back playing the way I was before," he said.
Votto is doing strengthening drill and is jogging and running, things he hadn’t been able to do until the last week or so.
"Yeah, I’ve made pretty good progress thus far," he said. "The medical staff has really been staying on top of it and I’m grateful for that."
Of his return date, Votto said, "I’m not really certain. I don’t have an answer for that." That, of course, is in the hands of Mother Nature.
"I am doing better and it is a day-by-day sort of thing," he added. "Day by day gets you closer every day. I’m doing everything I can to get back on the field as soon as possible. I’m rehabbing every day. I am moving forward, doing everything they are asking of me."
The frustration level is evident as he talks, knowing he has to watch what the Reds are enduring these days without him, 11 losses in their last 13 games (after Thursday night’s loss) and a slide-for-life from 1½ games behind at the All-Star break to 10½ behind after going 10-22 after the break.
"It is pretty frustrating — it is not fun to come in here and not play," he said. "I’m not used to coming in here and being in a position (of not playing). He doesn’t feel good and it has been frustrating. I wish I was on the field doing my part, helping the team out. Unfortuantely, I’m not able to. I’m trying to get to a point where I can come back and help the team out and play like everybody is used to me playing."
Votto paused for emphasis, sighed briefly, and said, "I’m not there yet."