CINCINNATI — This is not a Tale of Two Cities, it is a Tale of Two Players who wear the uniform of the Cincinnati Reds.
It is about Joey Votto and it is about Shin-Soo Choo.
Votto and Choo played amazing back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday in Great American Ball Park, games won by the Reds, 3-2 in 13 innings Saturday, and 10-6 Sunday.
Votto: Seven hits. Two home runs.
Choo: Reached base in 11 of his last 12 trips to the plate, causing teammate Todd Frazier to say, “That’s insane, just insane. It’s crazy, but it’s special. I’m happy he is such a nice guy.”
There is a perceived difference between Votto and Choo. Fans believe Votto has been in hiding, deep in a slump, losing his swing, struggling to live up to his $240 million contract because until Saturday he had only one home run.
And they believe Choo never makes an out as the new leadoff hitter for the Reds and it certainly seemed that way Sunday when he got on base all five times he batted and five of his last six times Saturday.
While they are pretty much correct on Choo, what they’ve seen from Votto is pretty much what they see every April, and that isn’t worrisome.
After the Reds quit circling the bases Sunday, Votto was hitting .323 with three home runs, seven RBI and 25 walks. In all of last April Votto hit .289 with only two homers, 15 RBI and 20 walks.
On-base average: Choo is No. 1 in the league at .523 and Votto is No. 2 in the league at .522.
“I can understand the concern about not hitting home runs, but I don’t feel obligated to hit home runs to quell everyone’s concern,” said Votto. “I’m not concerned about the home runs. The Reds pay me to be good. That’s all I try to do and if I go through a little bit of a homer drought I try to fill in with other things.”
Votto reached back into the history books to talk about his situation as a star player and removed several familiar names.
“Pete Rose hit a ton of singles and everybody considers him great,” Votto began. “Johnny Bench hit a touch lower with the average but hit a ton of home runs as a catcher. Frank Robinson, Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan — all kinds of different versions of guys who were great and did things differently. And I look at those guys as shining examples of how you can be a good player in different ways.”
Manager Dusty Baker was one man never concerned with the production of Votto.
“Everybody was more worried about Joey than we were,” said Baker. “Water seeks its own level. If you can hit, you can hit. Sooner or later you’ll start hitting. You just don’t stop hitting. He’s not old, he’s not fat and his eyes are still good. Most of the time when you stop hitting your eyes go bad, you get fat around the mid-section, your reactions get slow and you get old. He is a long way from any of those.”
Baker, of course, loves Choo’s propensity for finding first base, but wishes he’d find it less times playing the part of steel milk bottles in a carnival.
“As much as Choo has been on base, you kind of take it for granted when he keeps getting on base,” Baker said of Choo’s amazing stretch. “How many times has he been hit?”
Now that IS a Baker concern. When told it was nine, he said, “He doesn’t want to get hit. You don’t want to get hit unless your name is Ron Hunt (former New York Mets infielder), a guy who got hit on purpose. Choo isn’t getting hit on purpose.
“Everybody says, ‘Take one for the team.’ That’s fine, but it hurts,” said Baker. “We have to do something about that because sooner or later he is going to get hurt. I talk to him about it, he just kind of turns away. Maybe he thinks he is a turtle because he just turns like he is going into his shell.”
Choo did get hurt in 2011 in Cleveland, a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch and it cost him five weeks.
“Yeah, he’s getting on base, but I’d rather have him get on some other way than get hit because sooner or later it is going to get you in the elbow or the hand,” Baker said.
So how many of those nine times that Choo got hit did it hurt?
“A couple of times,” he said. “One of them today hit me right where I got hit in Pittsburgh and that hurt.”
Choo says his incredible run comes from a strict and direct focus on every pitch.
“I don’t want to lose any focus, I want to concentrate on every pitch, even in the ninth inning with a big lead,” he said. To prove it, Choo doubled in the seventh inning, his second at-bat during that eight-run inning, even though the Reds led, 8-2.
Asked why he gets hit so much, Choo said, “Can you ask the pitchers? I don’t know. I don’t think I’m that close to home plate. I ask the catchers and our pitchers. Pitchers know I hit a lot of outside pitches to the opposite field, so they throw me inside.”