By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Joey Votto’s power outage has been notable over the last two months, almost as if Duke Energy flipped a switch on Votto’s bat to reduce the wattage.
When the 34-and-58 Cincinnati Reds walked onto the Great American Ball Park grass Monday night to face the 32-and-60 Atlanta Braves, Votto hadn’t hit a home run in the month of July.
His last home run came on June 30, 18 days ago. That doesn’t mean he was slump-ridden and his batting average was shriveling, but most of his hits this month were singles — three singles and a double in a game over the weekend against Milwaukee.
The hits keep coming, but the home runs don’t. And it wasn’t just Votto. It was a team malady. Before Monday the Reds owned seven home runs in the month of July.
So, on Monday night Votto unloaded. And so did Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez, all in one inning during the Reds’ 8-2 victory.
THE REDS TRAILED, 1-0, when they came to bat in the fourth. When the fourth ended they owned a 5-1 lead after scoring five runs on five hits, including three home runs.
It began when Cozart led the inning with a home run into the left field seats off Atlanta starter Matt Wisler to tie it 1-1. Billy Hamilton singled and Votto broke the tie with a drive into the right field Moon Deck, his 15th home run of the season. With two outs Brandon Phillips singled and Suarez crushed his 16th homer deep into the left field cheap seats.
“Joey is putting the bat on the barrel a lot and is not expanding his strike zone,” said manager Bryan Price. “He is not swinging at pitches outside the zone. He is so good up there with balls and strikes. Teams want to try to pound him inside and he’ll get them out of there. He is hitting a variety of pitches and it is fun to see because he has put so much hard work into it.”
Then in the seventh inning Votto retreated back to his recent modus operandi with a run-scoring single to right field. It scored Billy Hamilton, who had reached base for the third time on three singles and had reached second with his third stolen base of the night.
SINCE JUNE 1 VOTTO is hitting .328 and has 42 hits in that span — 28 singles, nine doubles and five home runs, lifting his batting average from .213 to .265.
“Early in the season I really struggled hitting the fastball, putting it in play,” said Votto. “That was something that needed to be corrected because you can’t play in this league without hitting fastballs. That was Step One and you go from there.”
For most of the season opposing teams have been trying to pitch Votto hard inside, or as the players like to say, “Get into his kitchen.” It is something of which Votto had to adjust.
“Yes, I’ve noticed and you have to accept every challenge that comes your way in this game, make adjustments and constantly evolve as a player,” he said.
ON THE DEFENSIVE SIDE, Reds starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan, idle for 13 days since his last start, pitched five-plus innings before running out of petrol in the sixth after 96 pitches. Efficiency so far hasn’t been part of Finnegan’s vocabulary.
He gave up two runs, seven hits, walked one and struck out five, but had to leave in the sixth when he gave up a home run to Adonis Garcia, a double and a single, cutting the Reds lead to 5-2. Garcia had three of the seven hits off Finnegan and scored both runs.
Blake Wood replaced Finnegan with two on and nobody out in the sixth and pitched a 1-2-3 inning, retiring two via strikeouts to preserve the 5-2 lead, which the Reds built upon over the final couple of innings.
“I’d say Finnegan owes Wood at least a steak dinner,” said Price. “And he owes Suarez, too. Suarez made two above-and-behind defensive plays to save two, maybe three, runs in addition to his two-run home run, which came on his 25th birthday. And while he is purchasing New York strips he might as well throw one in for right fielder Jay Bruce, too, because Bruce made two brilliants plays
“The break (13 days) for Finnegan was the organization being cognizant of He his innings workload,” said Price. “It is something in the second half of the season that will be a topic of conversation. We know we just can’t tag this kid with 180 to 185 innings. That’s all there was to this. He didn’t require the rest and there was nothing he needed to fix. It was a nice opportunity to give him a breather. The purpose was just extra rest.”
OF FINNEGAN’S OUTING, Price said, “He has to learn to get to the point where he doesn’t use so much energy before his arm starts to come forward. When you can generate your power as your hand is moving forward toward the plate as opposed to propelling yourself to the plate as a momentum pitcher — well, it’s a lot more taxing on your body to throw it that way. He is working hard trying to stay back and clean that up.”
As for Votto’s streak, which looks a lot like the magnificent streak he got into the second half last season, Price said, “Yeah, it has a great feeling. He is able to play the game without the frustration of anybody who goes through an early struggle, especially when you are as accomplished as Joey is. There certainly is an expectation, and a warranted one.
“For me it is a relief just to see him go out there and enjoy playing baseball and getting the results. He looks very much like the player who performed at a ridiculously high level in the second half last year. A long-winded answer, but. . .Yes,” said Price.