CINCINNATI — Joey Votto sat in his exclusive corner of the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse, wearing black shorts and gripping a bat he won’t be able to use for a few more days.
Votto is enduring a delay in his comeback from knee surgery, another minor procedure performed Friday when a small piece of cartilage popped loose in his left knee. It happened on a slide, a slide that was supposed to show that he was ready to return to the lineup.
Instead, eight minutes of arthroscopic surgery was needed to remove it and seven to 10 days were tacked on to Votto’s sentence on the bench.
As he sat on a folding chair before Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets, he smiled and said, “I’m very happy the way the team is playing. Extremely well (19-8). Playing better than when I was on the field, so maybe they don’t want me back in the lineup.”
Skinny chance of that.
Wally Pipp’s name came up Tuesday involving Todd Frazier playing first base during Joey Votto’s absence, and playing at a high level, offensively (.280, 14, 48) and defensively. Wally Pipp played first base for the New York Yankees, took one day off with a headache, and Lou Gehrig played first base for the next 2,130 games.
“Joey ain’t gonna get Wally-ed,” said Manager Dusty Baker. “We’re sure gonna need Joey and I don’t give a darn what anybody says. We’ve been fortunate to have done this well without Joey.”
Votto admits he may have been overzealous, pushed himself too hard and too quickly, to make a fast return. Any regrets that he did that? Too few to mention and, actually, he has none.
“I am where I am in my career because of my attitude in general,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be the player that I am if I didn’t ask more of myself. Stuff like this happens. I’ve never been injured and I’ve learned quite a bit about myself since it happened, especially how to handle it, the game and myself.”
Before tearing cartilage in his left knee in mid-July, sliding into third base in San Diego just before the All-Star break, Votto was hitting .342 with 14 homers, 49 RBI and a league-leading 36 doubles. He led the league in walks with 66, one more base on balls than he had strikeouts (65).
Clearly, it was a path toward his second Most Valuable Player award — and it is still within his grasp if he comes back and helps lead the team to a National League Central title in September.
This time, though, he will not put a rush on himself, won’t foolishly try to play before his time.
“The next time I come back I will be ready to play 100 percent, ready to do all the things I did before I got hurt,” he said. “What makes me the player that I am is that I’m not just a hitter. I can play defense. I love doing everything.
“I love getting a pat on the back for breaking up a double play or scoring from first to home or taking a chance in baserunning situations. All that is what is what I want to bring back to the team.”
The surgery, albeit minor, was just four days ago, so Votto is not doing any baseball activity yet, “Just working out in the therapeutic pool,” he said. “Just doing pool work. I feel OK, just frustrated because I thought I’d be playing by now and that’s the hardest part of this whole thing.”
Votto said he was dime-thin close to coming back when his knee was caught underneath the test slide.
“I was probably pushing it, trying to get back out there,” he said. “I’m not trying to sound like a hero, but generally when we players get that close we push ourselves to back in there. Probably I was overzealous. But it was an unlucky occurrence (the ill-fated test slate), part of the process. I hurt myself sliding and it wasn’t any part of the re-hab stuff I was doing or the medical stuff or physical therapy.
“I banged it sliding,” he added. “I’ve slid a thousand times and I just happened to re-injure it.”
Votto was asked if he could return early if the team told him not to slide, regardless of the situation, and Votto would have none of it.
“I’m not going to come back until I can do everything I have to do as a ballplayer,” he said. “I’m not comfortable not being able to play defense or break up a double play or go first to third. I’m responsible for myself when I step on the field and I can’t take a guy out and it costs us a run, that’s something that would make it difficult for me to look my teammates in the eyes. I couldn’t explain myself. I’m an accountable guy and when I come back, I will be.”