CINCINNATI — Joey Votto will be batting in the No. 2 spot in the Reds Saturday against Tampa Bay, flipping spots with Brandon Phillips, as manager Bryan Price searches for a way to jump-start a sputtering offense.
It wasn’t the only switch that Price made to the lineup but it’s the one that stands out the most.
Votto has made 635 consecutive starts batting in the third spot before Saturday. He is batting just .257 with an on-base percentage of .372 and a slugging percentage of .400. While 10 games is hardly a significant sample size for any player, all three categories are well below Votto’s career numbers of .314/.419/.540. Votto has driven in just two runs this season and has just three extra base hits so far. He has walked six times.
"I feel excited about doing whatever I can just like the other people that switched around me to help the ballclub win," Votto said prior to the game. "I think traditionally the best hitters hit third and some people have gone against that but I don’t mind read the motives of why I was changed. Thus far I haven’t been the most productive hitter on the team. My track record will rear its ugly face at some point but I don’t know if it makes too much of an impact overall.
"I’m not sure if it will make big swings but I think what Bryan is doing I fully support and I’m excited about the change."
The Reds are off to 3-7 start after Friday night’s 2-1 loss to the Rays at Great American Ball Park. Votto produced Cincinnati’s lone run with a one-out solo home run in the ninth inning off of Tampa Bay starter David Price. While the pitching and defense has done its parts, the offense has been the difference as the Reds have quickly dropped to the bottom of the National League Central standings. They are already five games behind leader Milwaukee (8-2) less than two weeks into the season.
The Reds are averaging just 2.8 runs per game and have scored four or more runs just three times in their first 10 games. Only San Diego (26) has scored fewer runs than the Reds in the National League. The Reds’ team batting average of .225 is tied for 12th in the 15-team NL and their on-base percentage of .292 has the same ranking.
Despite those anemic early numbers, only three teams have left more runners on base than the 78 the Reds have stranded. Arizona tops the NL with 93 runners left on base but the Diamondbacks have played three more games than the Reds, and while Philadelphia (84) and Miami (80) have left more runners on than the Reds both teams have produced at least 19 more runs than Cincinnati.
Hitting with runners on base, let alone scoring position, is a problem the Reds have been dealing with the past couple of seasons.
"This isn’t a 10-game look, even though we’ve started out the season 3-7," said Price Saturday morning. "Looking at things over our recent history as an organization. We’re just trying to get more guys on base in front of the middle of the lineup and try to create some newness to it, maybe for no other reason than we need some newness. We’ve been at times a very productive offense but we’ve gotten off to a slow start.
"I just don’t feel like a sit-on-my-hands type of approach is the way to get these things turned around. We’ve got an outstanding group here but we really haven’t hit on all cylinders yet so I think we need to try something different."
Price said he spoke with Votto about this possible move during spring training. Votto will be hitting in the second spot in the order for just the ninth time in his career. Votto owns the franchise record for on-base percentage, setting it in 2012 with a .474 average, and last season he set club records for walks and for the number of times being on base safely via walk, hit or hit by pitch with 316. He has led the NL in walks the last three seasons and has had the best on-base percentage in the league the last four seasons.
Phillips is hitting .300 this season and leads the team with 12 hits, 17 total bases and a .425 slugging percentage. He topped 100 RBI for the first time last season batting cleanup for the majority of the season. While Votto was on the disabled list in 2012, Phillips batted third and hit .313 with five home runs and 21 RBI over a span of six weeks.
Besides the flip with Votto and Phillips, Price has also moved third baseman Todd Frazier up to the fifth spot in the order and dropped left fielder Ryan Ludwick to the sixth spot against Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb. Their numbers a similar so far but with the Reds having lost four of the six one-run games they’ve played so far and two more games decided by two runs, Price is looking for a shakeup.
"There are no messages being sent," said Price. "It’s just trying to be creative in what we’re doing… More than anything, I just think it’s rolling out the same philosophy and going down the same road that we’ve gone down here for awhile just doesn’t resonate. I want us to perform better. I want us to score more runs and I’ll be willing to do what it takes to take chances with the lineup and make changes that will spur the offense."