Reds' Votto was treading water

* Cincinnati Reds 1B Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) hit .305 and got on base more than anyone, but has 73 RBIs. .... 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2013 Canadians in College  Letters of Intent


By Bob Elliott

PITTSBURGH _ A year ago the Cincinnati Reds returned home to the Great American Ball Park with a 2-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants in the best-of-five, National League division series.

Three games later the Reds season was over.

This season, a pre-season pick to be wearing officially-licensed, October hoodies, the Reds stumbled down the stretch, lost home-field advantage for NL wild card game.

“Last year was a new kind of experience, a genuine heartbreak,” said Reds first baseman Joey Votto. “It felt sad, dirty, sour, disappointing. It was a lesson.”

A lesson unlearned by the Reds, who lost five straight to end the season, two against the New York Mets and three straight to the Pirates and then the wild card at PNC Park on Tuesday.

“This year it felt like we did it to ourselves,” said Votto from Cincinnati. “The Pirates outplayed us, it wasn’t a good finish to the regular season. We had a challenge to overcome going into the one-game playoff.”

And the challenge was lefty Francisco Liriano.

“If this makes any sense Clayton Kerhsaw is the best pitcher in the majors -- like Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout are the best hitters -- but Liariano is the best lefty. He’s a tougher lefty on left-handed hitters than Kershaw. CC Sabathia was dominant in his prime, but I don’t know if he was even that good. Liriano’s numbers are really fascinating.”

The Bucs lefty held opposing hitter to a .131 average (17-for-130) with two doubles and a .321 OPS.

“Two extra-base hits? One probably a broken-bat flare,” said Votto, hitless with two strikeouts in a 6-2 Pirates win as the Bucs advanced.

And now manager Dusty Baker is gone, the only full-time manager Votto has ever played for, fired with a year remaining on his contract. Votto broke in under interim manager Pete Mackanin in 2007 as a September call-up. Baker and Votto have been together the last six years.

“From my perspective, Dusty will be missed, both as a man and a manager,” said the Etobicoke first baseman. “Next spring will be different.”

Votto explained how in roughly a calendar year the Pirates went from “not a very scary offensive team,” to the point where “they rolled all over us,”

Added to Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Neil Walker were free-agent sign Russell Martin, plus Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau at the July 31 trade deadline,

On one hand Votto hit .305, won the on-base title for a fourth straight year matching Barry Bonds’ run (2001-04). The previous NL player was Rogers Hornsby (1920-25). Votto reached base 316 times (177 hits, 135 walks and was hit with four pitches), more than Pete Rose’s best year. Only Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt had a higher OPS (.926) than Votto amongst first baseman.

On the other, Votto had 73 RBIs hitting in the No. 3 spot.

“Boy oh boy, I have never been asked so much about the RBIs as this year,” said Votto. “It’s fascinating I didn’t have this conversation when I hit .337 and had 56 RBIs last year.

The difference was fans understood last fall returning from two knee surgeries and was homerless in the final 94 at-bats games of the season.

“I have a pretty good feel for a pitch to hit,” said Votto. “I can tell most times what is going to be a grounder to short, a fly ball to centre with a man on third, less than two out. Next best option is a walk, the next best is a single, a double and so on.

“I’ll take my walk when I don’t have an opportunity to get the bat on a pitch.”

Coming into the season Votto’s goal was to play 162 games and to get healthy.

“I didn’t feel as healthy as my MVP prime two years ago,” said Votto. “I did the best I could with my rehab. My legs feel great. I’d love to have 50 doubles, 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a gold glove ... I was on pace to due some nice things last year and had the two knee surgeries.

“There is some trauma after one surgery, you have to adjust and adapt.”

Votto says in his case it’s not a “woe is me,” situation, and understands how one faction praises the number of times he reached, while others complain about a dearth of RBIs.

Votto says it’s split down the middle and understands the passion: “sports are emotion, fans are riveted by emotion.”

“My only regret about my play is that I was sloppy on the bases and in the field at times,” Votto said. “I don’t have a single regret how I hit this year

“I usually have two or three hot months. This year I had one (.388, six homers, 16 RBIs in May). The rest? Treading water.”

A .305 average and a fourth-straight on-base title.

High standards.