GOODYEAR, AZ. — Joey Votto must feel like the person stalked in the old Police song, “Every breath you take, every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
That’s the way it is right now for the Cincinnati Reds first baseman as on-the-field workouts begin. All eyes are on Votto to see if he is fully recovered from his off-season rehabilitation program.
The $225 Million Man was only able to play 99 games last season, one of the many reasons the Reds finished fourth in the National League Central and only won 76 games.
A healthy Votto is Priority No. 1 for the 2015 season.
SO NATURALLY ALL eyes were on Votto Tuesday when position players took the field for the first time this spring.
“He looks good,” said manager Bryan Price. “What he missed that healthier players were able to do is immediately engage in baseball activity after the season. He spent the first two-third of the off-season focusing on his rehab and strengthening.
“That means he hasn’t had as much off-season baseball activity as the guys who finished the season healthy,” Price added. “But I was pleased with what I saw. He looked good in the batting cage and he looked good at first base. He had no issues throwing the ball and he looked very spry. I was really happy to see all that.”
Price said there are no limitations on what Votto will be asked to do and said, “It is just a matter of him getting himself in baseball shape. He isn’t at the same level of baseball shape as some of the other guys who could work on baseball stuff this winter. The only area in which he might be behind is baseball activity and endurance and baseball conditioning.”
TIME FOR HOMER BAILEY to take the mound for the first time is quickly approach, “In the next few days, scheduled for Friday,” he said. “I threw long toss at 230 feet the other day and it felt great. I probably won’t be ready for Opening Day, but it is not going to be June or May before I can pitch. Nobody knows for sure, nobody can say. But I’m guessing mid-April.”
That, of course, means the Reds need to find three starting pitchers for the start of the season to go behind Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake.
“We have a protoco in place for Homer, said Price. “We have earmarked a tentative date for his first bullpen, which we will wait to announce. (Bailey let it out, though by saying the day is Friday). He hasn’t had any setbacks so we expect to see him on the mound in the next few days. If all goes well with that, he’ll follow bullpen protocol which eventually leads to live batting practice which leads to his first spring training game. He is throwing well and feeling good. So much of post-surgical stuff is getting your range of motion back and your flexibility and breaking up the scar tissues.”
NEW COMMISSIONER Rob Manfred mentioned recently that he is willing to investigate the pros and cons of returning to a 154-game season. The National League last played a 154-game schedule in 1961, before expansion. Since then it has been a 162-game schedule.
Reds manager Bryan Price likes it just the way it is — 162 games over 180 days.
“I wasn’t even alive in the days of a 154-game schedule, so this is all I know,” he said. “As much as we find little imperfections in our game I thin it is as close to perfect as it is. I love it the way it is.
“There is something special about baseball in that there is that grinder mentality — there is 162 games over 180 days and then you get to see the last man standing,” Price added. “It’s awesome in that regard. There is so much credibility to guys who can play a full season and then through the playoffs.
“I don’t think I’d prefer to mess with all that,” he said. “I’d have to have a convincing argument that it would be better for the game to play a shorter schedule. I’m sure that there is something that makes sense, I just haven’t heard it yet.”
Price said he isn’t sure the players even like days off during the season, or during spring training. Especially pitchers. The Reds will have one day off during their 33-game spring exhibition schedule.
“On that day off there will be somebody on March 24 (the day off) who will throw because they’ll think if they don’t throw their arm won’t feel as good on the 25th,” said Price. “There is something about baseball that the farther away you get from activity the tougher it is to be sharp and efficient.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: About the value of days off during the season, Manager Bryan Price said, “Large increments of time off certainly didn’t bode well for us last year because we were playing great until the (three-day) All-Star break and then we were not the same club coming out of the break (51-44 before the break, 25-42 after the break).”