At the end of April, when Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto was hitting below .130 and called his 2022 season an “embarrassing experience,” he started working on a few adjustments at the plate.
He was disappointed by his lack of power and frequent strikeouts, so Votto changed bats and started tweaking his approach. But before he got to see how well those adjustments worked, Votto got sick and went on the COVID IL.
Now, Votto is seeing the bounce back that he had in mind last month.
On Wednesday at Great American Ball Park, the Reds beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-3, in front of a crowd of 11,417. Votto was responsible for three of the Reds’ four runs, including a solo home run and a two-run triple.
“I’m in the lineup, I have to do my job,” Votto said. “We all have a responsibility to produce and play for one another. Today was my turn, among others.”
Before Votto went on the IL, he had one extra-base hit in 22 games. He returned from the COVID IL on May 20, and he now has five extra-base hits in six games.
At the start of the season, with Votto trying to hit for power, he wasn’t getting the results he was looking for, and he struck out 29 times in his first 74 at-bats. Votto called it an uncharacteristic set of circumstances for him to deal with.
He wanted to “have more control” over the ball. He wanted to “move my power closer to the middle of the field.” He wanted to be more consistent driving fastballs up the middle.
Before Votto got a chance to put those adjustments in place, he got sick. With a four-week delay, Votto is now seeing the payoff.
“First of all, the bat was a real difference-maker,” Votto said. “Then a lack of concentration on contact and using the entire field. I was pulling the ball too much. There is more specifics technically, but the essence of it, I just wasn’t making enough contact and I wasn’t using enough of the field.”
Votto started Wednesday’s game with a solo home run to lead off the second inning. In a seven pitch at-bat, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks left a fastball in the strike zone, and Votto timed it and hit it over the fence in right-center field.
Votto went back up to the plate in the third inning against Hendricks with two runners on base. Hendricks threw a third-pitch sinker at the bottom of the strike zone, and Votto hit a pitch below his knees down the first base line.
When the sharp ground ball got by Cubs first baseman Alfonso Rivas, Votto sprinted for a triple, and the Reds took a 4-2 lead.
“He’s a person I really like to see every day,” Reds starter Luis Castillo said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. “The way that he’s hitting right now, that’s the way I want to see him hit every time, and enjoy the game for that matter. I hope he continues to do that for a long time.”
Castillo picked up the win, allowing two runs in five innings. The Reds allowed multiple runs in the first inning for the second straight game. Castillo responded well Wendesday and found his rhythm.
Following the first inning, Castillo allowed two hits and no runs until he left the game in the fifth. After the first inning, he met with Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson. Castillo made an adjustment to use his fastball more, and he turned around his start after that.
“There are some times the game will dictate what you will have to throw to these batters,” Castillo said. “I saw a couple things that weren’t working in the first inning, so I had to change and go straight to fastballs afterward.”
Previously this year, Castillo’s success on the mound has been determined by the impact of his changeup. This time, even though Castillo didn’t use his changeup as much, he showed the movement on his four-seam and two-seam fastballs to stay effective.
Castillo and the Reds bullpen benefited from one of the best defensive games the Reds have played this season, including two sliding catches by center fielder Nick Senzel and one leaping catch at the wall that saved the game in the ninth inning.
After losing the first two games of the series, the Reds were able to use most of their top relief options on Wednesday. Tony Santillan, Alexis Díaz and Art Warren continued their run as the three top options in the Reds bullpen and shut down the Cubs offense as the Reds secured the win.
“(Castillo) was putting guys away with his fastball late in the count, which was really impressive,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He came back (from the first inning) and put up zeros. That was really the key to the game. He set the tone, gave our offense a chance to score some runs, and the bullpen was outstanding.”