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Votto slides into season with new craft

Joey Votto’s approach to hitting is meticulous. He works umpires and pitchers deep into the count looking for any advantage, then sprays hits throughout the ballpark.

So it’s no surprise that when something took a swipe at his livelihood, Votto countered with extra preparation.

Votto’s knee injury last summer came after he slid into third base in a game against the San Francisco Giants. The necessary surgery that followed was minor, but Votto has since taken a new approach to sliding that has Reds manager Dusty Baker sure he’ll be ready for the rigors of the regular season.

Baker said before Wednesday’s game against the San Diego Padres at Goodyear Ballpark that he’s not worried about the former National League MVP getting aggressive on the basepaths.

“He’s probably nervous, but I won’t be,” Baker said. “I saw him slide about a month ago and I could tell he was working on it.”

Votto’s not exactly feared on the bases, but he’s a capable runner, with a career-best 16 steals back in his MVP season of 2010. Sliding, however, hasn’t always been his forte.

“He wasn’t a very good slider before. He would slow down to slide. He’d be safe and then he’d make himself out,” Baker said. “Now, he’s working on it because he doesn’t want to have a weakness in his game and he’s accelerating to slide. And that’s what you should do. That’s what gets you out. You probably get hurt less. Because you just kind of sit down and slide.”

Votto considered a head-first slide, something Baker tried early in his career but was quickly talked out of. The veteran manager passed the same advice on to Votto.

“I told him that wasn’t a good idea,” Baker said. “You can get hurt more with a head-first slide.”

Roster settling: The Reds trimmed the number of cuts remaining under double digits on Wednesday as pitchers Clay Hensley and Wilken De La Rosa were reassigned to the minors.

Aside from March 14, when he gave up four earned runs in two innings, Hensley said he felt better about his approach, especially with an improved arm angle

“I worked some things out,” Hensley said.

Meanwhile, De La Rosa was solid except for a single outing, but his came in his last appearance, when he gave up five earned runs in just over an inning as the Reds lost 16-0 to the Mariners.

The moves leave nine more to be made in the final few days before the season starts. Baker said he’d like to have the roster settled when the team breaks camp.

“I’d hope so. Can’t tell you when, but I hope so,” Baker said. “There’s some guys fighting for some positions, and you want to take it to the very end, as close to the end as possible so guys know what to do with their cars and their families. I’ve always said if you can’t handle competition from your teammates how are you gonna handle competition in September? You see some guys do, some guys don’t. There’s a lot of guys who spit it up at this time of the year, some guys get stronger.”

Still in play are a number of bullpen spots, as well as the utility infielder position.

“There are some guys who are playing their butts off, guys that are trying to impress,” Baker said. “(Derrick) Robinson is impressive, (Denis) Phipps is impressive. Look at the games (Emmanuel) Burriss and (Cesar) Izturis played (on Wednesday). That’s how you step up and do it.”

Catcher pairings: Baker was asked if there will be specific battery pairings since Mike Leake has been caught by Devin Mesoraco more than once this spring, but the manager said there wasn’t anything to the rotation just yet.

“I’ll let you know. And it will vary. Hanigan caught seven last night, now it’s Mesoraco’s turn to catch. You want to keep them both sharp, but you don’t want to pair them up too much. What happens if a guy a doesn’t hit a guy, or if it’s a day after night,” Baker said.

“It’s a long season. Look at that calendar up there, that schedule. Whew. Once they fire that gun to go, there’s no stopping for a long time.”

Extra bases: Former Reds hurler Edinson Volquez gave a familiar performance Wednesday, keeping Cincinnati without a hit through the first four innings but walking five. Shin-Soo Choo finally snapped a cold stretch with a solo homer in the fifth, his second homer of the spring. … Mat Latos was hit by a liner in his last outing, but he’s scheduled to make his final start of the spring Thursday when the Reds host the Kansas City Royals (4:05). J.J. Hoover, who is still in the mix for a bullpen spot, will be among those to follow Latos. Ervin Santana is scheduled to pitch for the Royals.

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