CINCINNATI — Joey Votto was leaning on a pair of crutches in front of his locker, wearing his Cincinnati Reds cap but civilian clothes as his team prepared Wednesday afternoon to play the Arizona Diamondbacks.
It was little more than 24 hours after surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus and a flurry of controversy swirled about the timing of his surgery.
Votto first injured his knee June 29 in San Francisco, sliding into third base. He left the game that night and underwent a thorough examination and then continued playing.
“They gave me all the tests, a strength test on the knee, and I passed them all,” he said. “I thought all of this was handled perfectly.”
It was only 17 days later when Votto underwent his first MRI and the tear was discovered that fans wondered, “Why did they take so long to give their $250 million All-Star first baseman an MRI?”
Votto completely exonerated the team’s medical staff and front office and said he was healing fast and thought his problems were behind him until he re-injured the knee during last weekend’s series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Votto played in the All-Star game and played the first game after the break and said, “I was running out balls, able to play deep defensively, was able to hit. I had no problems.”
On Saturday he had two hits and scored two runs against the Cardinals, “But that’s the day it began acting up again,” he said. “I knew something was wrong but I tried to get through the game and we won. But my knee was telling me it was time to go see the training staff.”
And the MRI discovered the tear but Votto said he was told the tear was minor compared to most knee surgeries.
“They say the surgery was successful and they are optimistic about my recovery time (three to four weeks,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is get ahead of myself and start making predictions. I’d love to be playing the first day I’m eligible to come off the DL (July 31), but you never know how things will shake out.”
As for the timing of the MRI, Votto said he would not do it differently, would not undergo an MRI when he first injured the knee.
“Sometimes you think you might need some help, but it heals and sometimes you think you don’t need help and all of a sudden it is something serious. I was always taught to stay out of the training room and play if you can play. For better or for worse, that will pay off in the long run for me and for the Reds,” he said.
“I mean, I healed really quickly after I got taken out of the game in San Francisco and I was really optimistic, hoping it was just something muscular. But it turned out to be a small structural thing,” he said. “When the time came that I couldn’t run and couldn’t be agile, I knew it was time,” he said.
Votto said the team’s location in the schedule pushed his decisions, too.
“We’re trying to stay in first place in the division and I thought it wise to wait it out and help the team,” he added. “I was improving, so nobody is at fault here.
“I played against the best teams, those California teams (San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego) and they were first-place teams (SF, LA) and the Cardinals series was big. No disrespect to the teams we’re playing now, but we’re going through a stretch of several less than .500 teams (Arizona, Milwaukee, Houston, Colorado and San Diego).
“If ever there was a time for me to take some time time, and I don’t know how we’ll shape up going forward but I certainly think we have the team get some distance away from Pittsburgh and St. Louis,” he said.
The bottom line for Votto was that he didn’t want to have surgery, “But you always want to have it if you need it. But it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that I thought it was necessary.”
To take Votto’s place, the Reds called up Xavier Paul, an outfielder they signed recently after he opted out of his contract with the Washington Nationals.
“I liked him when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the best pinch-hitters around, especially against right-handers,” Manager Dusty Baker said about Paul. “He can play all three outfield positions and gives us a much-needed left-handed bat and gives us speed, which we also need.
“I saw what he did against us off the bench with the Pirates and, frankly, I was quite surprised that he didn’t go back with the Pirates,” said Baker.
The 5-foot-9, 199-pound Paul was a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. He was claimed off waivers from LA by Pittsburgh in 2011 and signed with the Nationals before this year as a minor-league free agent. When the Nationals to place keep him in the majors, he opted out.