During the Cincinnati Reds‘ 10-game road trip ending July 2, the Reds have put themselves back in the hunt for the NL Central division and in the process learned something about their star first baseman Joey Votto — he will play hurt.
Votto sat out two games during the road trip, including the finale on Wednesday, but he gutted out playing in visible pain for the rest of the trip. His swings may now end in a grimace and his running has become noticeably limited, but Votto is still showing up and playing despite a knee/quad injury that just won’t completely heal.
How long the Reds can continue to let Votto play in what is obvious distress remains to be seen. After their road trip and a day off, the Reds have an 11-game homestand leading up to the All-Star break. If the Reds continue to rely on an injured Votto, he’ll clearly need more rest than he’s been receiving. He may be reduced to playing two out of every three games or even every other game if his knee doesn’t allow him to produce better than he has recently.
Votto has played in 20 games since he returned from the disabled list on June 10. While his batting average at .261 is higher than the .257 he had when he went to the DL, his on-base percentage has dropped from .410 to .399.
Votto returned hot, raising his batting average to .274 after eight games back from the DL, but since then he has struggled. The Reds are 13-7 in the 20 games that he has played, even though Votto as the three-hole hitter has yet to hit a home run and has just three RBIs in his last 13 games.
It’s admirable for Votto to want to gut out his injury and play every game possible, but the Reds may have to hedge their bets in 2014 by going after a power-hitting first baseman before the trade deadline. Otherwise they may have to play too many games with a lineup that just won’t be productive enough to keep them alive in the division.