PITTSBURGH — Joey Votto’s batting helmet and his bat suffered for his mistake. His batting gloves got a good toss, too.
Votto chased a pitch up and out of the strike zone in the third inning of Tuesday’s 6-5 win against Pittsburgh. He tried to hold the swing, pull it back, but to no avail. The strikeout against Brandon Cumpton ended a scoring threat, leaving Billy Hamilton on third in a game that at the time was tied 1-1.
Votto isn’t one to show much emotion on the field one way or the other but when he does you know it’s genuine. That’s something that sometimes gets lost when talk turns to Votto. He’s seen as a robohitter. That’s what happens when you post the numbers Votto has posted throughout his career and approach the game and the art of hitting as methodically as he does.
When Votto wasn’t showing that bit of frustration Tuesday, he was contributing to the Reds’ win with a pair of hits that drove in three runs, including a two-run single in the seventh inning that gave the Reds a 5-2 lead.
Votto missed 23 games with a strained distal quadriceps but in the seven games since returning to the lineup he has very much looked like his old self beyond just hitting in his familiar No. 3 spot. He’s hit safely in all seven games, going 10-for-28 (.348) with three doubles, seven RBI, an on-base percentage of .419 and slugging .464. The Reds are 5-2 in those seven games.
Votto’s health goes beyond his production at the plate.
"He’s looked terrific," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "Not just swinging the bat but running the bases. The start and stop of playing defense and running the bases was, to me, something that I could notice as a baseball person probably beyond his swing to tell me that he’s feeling better than he was when he went on the DL. Considerably. His energy on the field, to me, is noticeable."
Tuesday was Votto’s first three-RBI game of the season and his first since last Sept. 14 at Milwaukee in a 7-3 win. He had just two last season and has just four such games since first injuring his knee in the middle of the 2012 season. By comparison, Votto had four three-RBI games in 2012 prior to his knee surgeries and had 34 of them between 2008-2011. In his MVP season of 2010, Votto drove in three or more runs in a game 10 times.
His knee troubles aren’t the only reason his production lagged behind what it was previously but this first week back has been an indication of what a healthy Votto means to the Reds lineup as a whole. The return of Votto and pitcher Mat Latos from the DL gives Price his healthiest roster of the season.
According to statistician Joel Luckhaupt, when Votto, Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco are in the lineup together (17 games) the Reds have scored an average of 5.4 runs per game. That average drops more than two runs per game (3.2) in the 31 games in which only two of the trio plays and down to 3.0 runs per game in the 18 games in which only one of them plays.
The Reds are 10-7 when the trio is in the lineup.
"It’s not so much for me but for the players with things starting to settle in and we’re not running out a bunch of different lineups," said Price. "There’s something to be said about knowing what’s expected of you and knowing when you’re going to be in there and when you’re not."