CINCINNATI — There are no placards hanging in the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse that say, “Keep a stiff upper lip,” but there are, indeed, more stiff upper lips these days than on the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace.
It is all due to the loss of All-Star first baseman Joey Votto for three weeks after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday.
The team, of course, is trying to convince itself that the sky isn’t falling and, in fact, when a TV report persisted on that line of questioning Manager Dusty Baker asked, “Did you read Chicken Little? Do you still read it to your kids?”
The best man to put it all in perspective is the team’s veteran, the team’s spokesman, the team’s solid rock foundation, Scott Rolen.
“You have to put it into perspective and I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, we’re fine, it’s no big deal,'” said Rolen. “He is one of the best players in the league and he drops out of the No. 3 hole in our lineup that’s not a good thing by any means.”
Rolen knows of what he speaks because he has fought shoulder and back issues for several years. He missed the final two months of last season after shoulder surgery and missed 80 games because of two sessions on the disabled list.
“In all due respect and in fairness to Joey, it is a huge loss for our team, but on the flip side — that’s reality, that’s what it is,” Rolen added.
“Where do we go from here? We got out and we play baseball,” he said. “We’re a better team with him, no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean we are not a good team while he is healing and mending.
“We’ll prepare to play and do our best, do the best we can,” he continued. “We’ll continue to pitch good and play good defense and grind out our at-bats and try to win series.”
While Votto is out, first base falls into the hands of rookie Todd Frazier, who has filled in this year at third base during Rolen’s absence with back spasms. He is hitting .278 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs, making a stern statement for Rookie of the Year consideration.
Baker, though, made a plea for Frazier with the media.
“I just hope you guys don’t put more pressure on Todd and the other young guys than is already on them, you know what I mean. I mean, please.
“I know the media has to grab somebody all the time, but they are kids, man, so let ’em play and let ’em enjoy,” he added. “They don’t have to be asked every day some questions they don’t have answers to. They are still trying to find their way through the woods without a flashlight.”
One of those young players is another rookie, shortstop Zack Cozart, who has batted leadoff in front Votto most of the season.
“Joey is the MVP of our team and probably of the league and any time you lose somebody like that it is going to be tough,” said Cozart. “But the mark of a good team will be like when you have a guy like that out of the lineup you prove to the rest of the league that, ‘Hey, it’s not just Joey carrying us all the time.’
“We’ve had great pitching, we’ve had great defense and now the hitters have to step up,” he added. “Sure, he is arguably the best player in the game, but he is still hitting only .340 so he is making outs a lot, too. And he went through a little bad streak after he got hurt and we still won (six straight at one point), so now it is up to us to do the same thing while he is out.”
Cozart calls his Reds, “Still a great team, still a team leading the National League Central, and we can extend our lead over the next four weeks while we don’t have him.”
Rolen was asked about Frazier filling Votto’s shoes and he said Votto’s shoes are a size 13 to everybody’s else’s 10s.
“He is not going to be able to fill Joey’s shoes and I hope he doesn’t try to fill Joey’s shoes,” said Rolen. “He needs to play as well as he has all year – swung the bat great, played good defense, done a lot of good things for the team. He needs to continue doing that and just play the game the way Todd plays, not the way Joey plays. Joey is the best player in the room.”
As the media persisted about talking about the sky falling over Great American Ball Park, Baker said, “Just let us live. I don’t know how it is outside the stadium, but in here, in his clubhouse our guys are confident that we’ll pick Joey up until he comes back.”