Joey Votto, making progress after injuries, looking to refine swing

It’s too early to say whether Joey Votto will be ready to play by Opening Day next spring, recovering from surgery to repair his left rotator cuff and bicep, but he’s at least making progress.

Votto initially wasn’t expected to begin swinging until around New Year’s Day, but he posted video on Instagram of his first swings on Nov. 25. He hit off a tee Thursday.

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“I don’t know what the schedule looks like other than I feel like I’ve made some really nice progress,” Votto said Friday at Redsfest. “All I’ve been doing is rehabbing, training and sleeping. This has been my focus since surgery and I’m happy with the progress.”

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is introduced during Redsfest, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is introduced during Redsfest, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.

Votto, 39, is entering potentially his last season with the Cincinnati Reds. The 2023 season is the final guaranteed year of his contract with a $7 million buyout for 2024.

He’s coming off the worst offensive season of his career, batting .205 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and a career-low .319 on-base percentage, but injuries played a role in his performance. He had a .728 OPS before July 1 and a .603 OPS afterward.

“I’m looking forward to correcting a lot of the mistakes I made last year in preparation and in performance during the season,” Votto said. “Ideally, I’d like to be as prepared as I’ve ever been for a Major League season. I do recognize that I’m in a position – there’s no non-dramatic way to say it – I have to perform well or I’m not going to be in a good place in terms of my career.”

When was the last time Votto felt like he needed to perform well to keep his career going?

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“I felt that every year as an amateur,” he said. “Very nearly every year as a minor leaguer. When I first got called up, I was two-thirds of the way through an MVP season where I still thought I’d get sent down if I didn’t perform well. And post-2014 after the injury. In ’15, I knew I had to come back. Those are the times I remember the most.”

Joey Votto talked about his rehabilitation  from surgery during his appearance at Redsfest at the Duke Energy Convention Center Friday night. “Ideally, I’d like to be as prepared as I’ve ever been for a Major League season," he said..
Joey Votto talked about his rehabilitation from surgery during his appearance at Redsfest at the Duke Energy Convention Center Friday night. “Ideally, I’d like to be as prepared as I’ve ever been for a Major League season," he said..

Votto has spent a lot of time over the last few months studying video of his swing and other great hitters. It’s not a new practice for him, but watching guys like Yordan Álvarez, Bryce Harper and José Abreu gives him a baseline of how the league’s best hitters are being pitched.

“I feel the same way I felt when I was 16 or 17 years old watching when I was an aspiring professional,” Votto said. “I would watch the Major League Baseball website. It had the draft prospect videos where they’d show them running and hitting. I would watch all the guys that were first round picks, high picks and I would try to copy their style and take that into my game and work on it in the offseason and try to make the adjustments during the season, during my amateur time.

“Now I feel like I’m doing the same thing. I’m watching the best in the game. Why am I different? Why am I performing differently? Most importantly, I’m watching my performance when I was at my best.”

When Votto is healthy, he’s expected to be the everyday first baseman on a rebuilding Reds team. He didn’t hit well in 2019 or 2020, especially for his standards, but a resurgent 2021 season with 36 homers and 99 RBI was an important bounce back year.

A poor start in April and injuries sidetracked Joey Votto's 2022 season

He was confident he’d play well in 2022, but he had an awful April and his injuries cost him a chance to recover in the second half of the season.

“I became too much of a pull hitter,” Votto said. “I wasn’t balanced enough in terms of my lower half. Then the direction I was trying to hit the ball was probably too much on the pull side. Ironically for me, I’ve been through this before. I remember going through this in 2003 when I was in A-ball I tried to pull the ball too much. I remember going through this in other stops on my minor league career. In the major leagues, very, very rarely did I experience this. But I did go through stretches and the correction was always to go to my bread and butter. Be balanced. Drive the ball through the middle of the field.”

Reds first baseman Joey Votto gets set for fielding groundballs ahead of the game against the Chicago Cubs at the Field of Dreams stadium.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto gets set for fielding groundballs ahead of the game against the Chicago Cubs at the Field of Dreams stadium.

When Votto was at his best, he’d rarely take swings in the offseason, doing some work off a hitting tee in January or even as late as February to prepare for the start of spring training.

Joey Votto will have to change his offseason preparation this year

“I’ve always found that the best way to ruin a swing is by working on it in the offseason,” Votto said, “so I try to get stronger and try to be a better athlete. Whereas now, I’m going to have to do a lot of swinging between now and spring training. But I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to swinging pain free.”

When he’s not working through his rehab, one of his offseason activities was playing in an over-the-board chess tournament. He wrote on social media he was “flattened by a 9-year-old.”

He was asked Friday if he indeed lost to a young kid.

“He may have been 8,” Votto said.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Joey Votto looking to refine swing after injury-filled 2022 season