Joey Votto: Staying healthy key for Cincinnati Reds

“Not playing,” Votto said Saturday.

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Votto debuted with the Reds in September 2007 and made the Opening Day roster a season later. On March 31, 2007, in the season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he didn’t get off the bench in a 4-2 loss. He split time with Scott Hatteberg for the first couple weeks of the season.

“I felt like Aaron Rodgers playing behind Brett Favre,” Votto joked, “Scott Hatteberg being the proverbial Bret Favre, though.”

Votto started his first opener in 2009 and for many years has been the face of a franchise that had a strong run from 2010 to 2013 but now faces a rebuilding project that has dimmed expectations.

Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter against the Philadelphia Phillies is Raisel Iglesias, the first pitcher to start the opener with 16 or fewer career starts since Frank Pastore, who had nine career starts before the 1980 opener. As a rookie last season, Iglesias was 3-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 16 starts.

“He’s a guy that’s nasty,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “He’s really really good. I’m anxious to see how he fares this year.”

Brandon Finnegan, 22, who has made four career starts, starts the second game Wednesday night. Two other expected starters, when they return from the disabled list, are almost as young. Anthony DeSclafani is 25. Michael Lorenzen is 24.

Veteran Alfredo Simon, 34, returned to the Reds in March after a season with the Detroit Tigers, and the Reds do expect to see Homer Bailey, 29, return to the rotation in early May. Still, a young pitching staff is the big reason most experts think the Reds will finish last in the National League Central Division for a second straight season.

The position players are another story. Six of the expected starters on Opening Day — Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton — have combined to start 30 openers.

Cozart and Mesoraco return to the lineup after missing most of the 2015 season with injuries.

“I’m glad to see those guys healthy,” Votto said, “and that’s going to be a priority for us: staying healthy.”

The Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 in the 2015 opener, stopping a two-game losing streak on Opening Day. They started the season 4-0 but finished 64-98. The .395 winning percentage was their worst since 1982 (61-101, .377). It was also only the second time since 1945 they’ve had a winning percentage lower than .400.

Of course, the excitement of Opening Day overshadows the reality of the season ahead.

“In 2014, when I broke with the team, hearing your name on Opening Day, there’s really nothing more special,” Barnhart said, “just because you’ve worked so hard to get to that level. It gives you chills.”

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