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Votto ‘caps’ it all off with cereal

CINCINNATI — One thing you never see is a baseball player wearing his team’s hat when he is away from the ball park. Oh, they wear baseball caps, but never team caps.

For example, Homer Bailey walked into the clubhouse Wednesday wearing a cap with a hunter pointing a gun on the peak. Brandon Phillips, who never played in Dayton, walked to his locker wearing a Dayton Dragons game hat, black with a green bill, and said, “You have to change it up sometimes.”

Scouts are the same way. You can never identify for whom a scout works by his headgear. For example, Chicago White Sox scount Billy Scherer was wearing a University of Wyoming cap and Arizona scout Pat Murtaugh was wearing a blue cap with an NFL logo on the peak.

JOEY VOTTO, WHO IS from Canada but professes not to be a big hockey fan, was wearing a Chicago Black Hawks cap. His is from Toronto and when somebody asked, “Why not a Maple Leafs hat,” he said, “I’ve never been a big Leafs fan.”

What Votto has been the second half of this season is a guy who has been as tough to get out as it is to get a guy out of his La-Z-Boy recliner to do yard work on a 95-degree day.

Last season, when Votto was coming back from a knee injury and struggled at the plate (.255, 6 homers, 23 RBI in 220 at-bats), I wrote and told people, “Votto always will be a very good player but it is unrealistic to believe he’ll ever approach his 2010 MVP season.”

I WAS AS WRONG as the Flat Earth Society people. In my 43 years of covering baseball, I have never seen a player have a better second half of a season as Votto is having. I told him that and he smiled broadly and said, “Thanks. Thanks very much. That means a lot.”

And Votto hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Somebody asked him the difference between the first half this season (when he struggled a bit) and the second half.

He said with a smile, “The first half I was going with oat meal and granola for breakfast. After the All-Star break I decided to go strictly with Wheaties.”

Now there is an endorsement waiting to happen. But for Votto that’s about as close as he can come to an explanation. “I don’t have a real explanation,” he said. Hard work is one explanation. Another? “I have done a better job of guiding the ball where I want it to go. But the frstrating thing about all this is that you want your success to have an impact on the team’s success. It has been disappointing not to be part of a winner.”

WHEN THE MEDIA arrived at the ball park Wednesday and saw the lineup they saw that Billy Hamilton is back in the lineup — and batting leadoff. Just the day before manager Bryan Price said Hamilton wouldn’t bat leadoff when he came back from his three-day rehab assignment in Pensacola.

As soon as the media walked into Price’s office, he laughed and said, before anybody could speak, “How about Billy in the leadoff spot? Just like I said yesterday.”

Price said it is because the Pittsburgh Pirates were pitching a left hander, J.A. Happ, and that Hamilton would bat leadoff occasionally against left handers.

“He is back in there and ready to go and I anticipate him being in the lineup (somewhere in the order) regularly for the duration of the year.”

WHAT A MISERABLE day for Kristopher Negron. He was recalled on Tuesday from Class AAA Louisville. He didn’t start Tuesday’s game, but was a late-inning replacement in left field.

No sooner did he get out there than a ball was hit down the left field line Negron sprinted toward the line and laid out, belly down, to make a sensational diving catch. And he stayed down.

It was thought at the time that he injured his shoulder. He did. But that’s not all. He partially dislocated his left shoulder. He also tore his labrum. He also has a small fracture in his scapula. Other than that, Negron is fine and dandy. He will undergo season-ending surgery and it will take about five months of recovery time.

“Negron had been hurt in Triple-A in July and did all the rehab on the same shoulder,” said Price. “He had recovered and had been swinging the bat well toward the end of the season. There were no lingering effects from the previous injury.”

PITCHER JOSH SMITH also was a Tuesday call-up from Class AAA Louisville and also was pressed into quick duty. He pitched two inning of relief Tuesday night against the Pirates. He gave up one hit and retired the other six, two via strikeouts.

It was vast improvement from his early season call-up when he started three games and was 0-and-2 with a 6.93 earned run average.

“Josh took very seriously some of the discussions we had with him when he was departing after his first trip up here,” said Price. “We told him he was too good of a pitcher to pitch the way he was. He was always a strike thrower and he needed to pitch in the strike zone with his stuff, trust it.

“He came back and we were really pleased that he threw strikes, was much more aggressive in his approach and worked ahead. He did all the things he needed to do to be successful.”

Price said he was ecstatic that Smith took to heart and soul what he was told to do when he was sent back.

“There are such a limited amount of players who come to the big leagues without being returned to the minor leagues,” said Price. “Quite often it is because they don’t fully grasp what it takes to be a good player at this level. They have to be reminded by a return to the minor leagues.”






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