Joey Votto drove in a run during his second at-bat of the Cactus League season Wednesday and somebody said, “You drove in a run. Maybe your critics will get off your back.”
The Reds first baseman is not one to absorb off-the-cuff humor and said seriously, “Nothing counts until the regular season.”
No, it doesn’t. Nor does the 0-for-2 he put up during Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Indians.
When the season starts, when Votto does or doesn’t drive in runs in banana-like bunches, that’s when everything will come to a boil. Will he drive in 73 again or come closer to the 113 of his MVP 2010 season?
Votto gets it. He understands why some fans feel the way they do. He is paid a bank vault full of money — a 10-year, $225 million deal — and with that comes high expectations. And when those expectations aren’t reached, the howling and the sniping begin.
So Votto understands that some fans believe he should change his approach to hitting so he doesn’t walk so much and so he will drive in more runs.
What Votto doesn’t understand is that there are some people who should know better, who he thought knew the game, who believe he should change his approach.
By most accounts, Votto had another bang-up season in 2013 — .305, 24 home runs, a league-leading 135 walks and a league-leading .435 on-base percentage. And while 73 RBIs is a fair number, it pales in comparison to 113.
To some, it wasn’t good enough.
“It was unfortunate about the comments people made and it is more unfortunate when people who you think understand the game — people you wish would support you more — go in the opposite direction,” Votto said. “The thing I was more concerned about was having the pressure of multiple different sources telling me to change my approach and putting consistent pressure on me.”
Asked to whom he was referring, Votto said, “That one I’ll probably keep to myself. It is never good to target anyone. But that’s part of baseball, part of the job, part of the contract I signed. The criticism is part of how the game works. I accept it and learned a lot from it.
“I’m always trying to improve, always trying to figure out ways to get more out of myself.”
But changing his approach to hitting is not one of them, not after years and years of hard work to develop and refine what he has done so well for six years with the Reds.
“It will be really tough for any hitter to go the plate thinking about anything other than the competition they are facing,” he said. “You go up there thinking about an approach that satisfies multiple perspectives and it can be a real challenge overall.
“If I wasn’t producing and having a satisfying result in my overall game I could understand the complaints. You know, overall, I think I had a successful year, despite the lack of one number (RBIs). I like getting lost in an at-bat and getting the most out of every at-bat.”
Votto paused as he pulled on his cap Friday morning for a round of batting practice, then said, “I get it. I get it. It’s OK. You know, it is only one year. I have a track record of success. Last season wasn’t a huge drop-off. There were some things missing, but that happens with all players.”
It was pointed out that hitters sometimes have no control over how a pitcher approaches a talented hitter like Votto, especially with runners on base. They pitch around him with pitches out of the strike zone. Is Votto supposed to get himself out by swinging at bad pitches?
“Some would like me to do that,” he said. “Yeah, some would.”
One of the people who is not asking Votto to change his approach, who is not asking him to swing at bad pitches, is manager Bryan Price.
“It is difficult to ask a guy who has worked so hard to perfect his game to make a big change like that,” said Price. “And it is not fair to define a player on one year. Some of Joey’s numbers were down a bit, but we know what he can do without him making changes. He has done it, more than a few times. And he’ll do it again.”