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Saturday, April 19, 2008
New routine for Votto


A baseball season began on March 31, and for the first time in his life, Joey Votto was not a part of it, immediately. He did not hit well in spring training, at a time when manager Dusty Baker was evaluating whether to install Votto as the full-time first baseman or split time between Votto and veteran Scott Hatteberg, and on Opening Day, it was Hatteberg who started.

Votto didn't start on April 3, either, or on April 5. Veteran players have learned how to cope with intermittent playing time, learned how to prepare. For Votto, who was accustomed to playing every day, this is new, and during the first few days of the season, he found himself drifting, uncertain of how to cope with a situation that was new to him. So he has developed a system: He pretends that he was starting every single game.

"I made a major point to get in and get all my video work done early," he said Friday. "I was really tempted to be lazy, but I kicked myself in the butt and [thought], stick to the same plan -- at least go into the game with the mindset that I was playing every day."

FANTASY
ON THE RISE
• Scott Kazmir, Rays: He looked good in his first minor league outing.
• Kaz Matsui, Astros: He was activated to play for the first time in 2008.
• Curtis Granderson, Tigers: He'll be back in action in the big leagues in the next few days, after tripling in his first rehab game.
ON THE DECLINE
•  Ben Sheets, Brewers: He left after five innings Friday because of soreness.
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For example, on April 7, when the Reds were set to play the Phillies and left-hander Cole Hamels, Votto reviewed videotape to get a sense of Hamels, of what he throws and how he uses his repertoire, and through his batting practice, he swung the bat with Hamels in mind. And that day, Votto started the game on the bench.

"I've always been told that I've got to keep a routine," said Votto. "I found I played my best when I had the same routine every day."

On those days when Votto hasn't started, the odds are, of course, that he is unlikely to get an at-bat against the opposing starting pitcher. He has switched to the bench-player thought process, which is built around preparation for at-bats against relievers. Votto likes to find a place in the dugout away from players who talk a lot, to give himself the best chance to focus on the game, to mentally prepare, to consider what situations might eventually develop for him -- a double-switch, a pinch-hit appearance against a particular right-handed reliever, that kind of thing. He will sometimes retreat to the clubhouse to watch the game on television, to observe the opposing starting pitcher from the center field camera angle, to get himself as prepared as possible for the moment that he's suddenly standing at the plate. "I've always been told -- especially by Dusty -- that you have to be ready to be aggressive from Pitch One that you see," says Votto.

And in recent days, Votto's work seems to be paying off. He started the last four games at first base, collecting 5 hits in 13 at-bats, with a couple of homers and seven RBI. Baker has complimented Votto's work ethic in his conversations with reporters, but hasn't said anything to Votto. "He really cares about the team [at large], and his No. 1 concern is with getting us a lot of swings," said Votto.

The Reds are having some tough games lately -- that's six losses in seven games; Bronson Arroyo lost Friday, as Shannon Russell writes. There is word within this piece that Josh Fogg may be supplanted in the Cincinnati rotation by Matt Belisle.

• The Brewers won Friday, but have a scary situation: Ben Sheets is hurting, as Anthony Witrado writes. Bill Hall was bumped down in the Milwaukee lineup.

• You have to give the Rockies credit for hanging in there, despite a lack of sleep, and thumping the Astros. You wonder if this might be the kind of event that galvanizes a team that hasn't started well this year. The Rockies had landed at 7:20 in the morning in Houston, writes Patrick Saunders.

• Meanwhile, the Padres were put out of their misery very early in Arizona, as Kyle Odegard writes, in a game that was about as third as long as San Diego's 6-hour, 16-minute loss early Friday morning. Within this story, there is word that Conor Jackson passed up a sure cycle. In the aftermath of the Evan Longoria deal, Justin Upton says he's not going to rush into anything.

• Greg Maddux had a dismal outing, but he gave the Padres innings, as Tom Krasovic writes. Within this piece, there is word that Jim Edmonds continues to struggle in center field; you wonder if he's nearing the finish line. Paul McAnulty made a big baserunning mistake in the 22-inning game.

• Chipper Jones is ridiculously, absurdly hot right now, as David O'Brien writes.

• It would seem to make a lot of sense, in the aftermath of Alfonso Soriano's injury, for the Cubs to reach out to Kenny Lofton, who could play left in Soriano's place and help balance a very right-handed Chicago lineup. But this doesn't appear to be part of the Cubs' plans.

• Andruw Jones heard a whole lot of boos in his return to Atlanta.

• This seems utterly incredible: Tom Glavine is on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

• Cliff Lee was The Man for the Indians, writes Sheldon Ocker. Travis Hafner's right shoulder is sore.

• Andrew Miller had a tough go of it early against the Nationals, but improved as his start moved along, as Tom D'Angelo writes; within this piece, there is speculation that Miller has one more start to show something before the Marlins might consider an alternative. Lee Gardner is hurting, and wound up on the DL.

• Bobby Crosby had another big night, and Oakland ended its losing streak, as Susan Slusser writes.

• Within this story about the Giants' loss against the Cardinals Friday, there is word that John Bowker played first base for the first time since he was in high school, as Henry Schulman writes. The Giants are considering going with a six-man rotation, writes Henry Schulman.

• The possible nine-year deal the Rays agreed to with Evan Longoria is out of character for them, but could turn out to be a bargain, writes Joe Henderson. Here is the breakdown of the deal, from Marc Topkin. I've written here before that some executives are privately musing about whether it is now worthwhile to give decade-long deals to star college prospects at the time when they are drafted.

• Rich Hill had a very nice outing to lead the Cubs. Marty Brennaman is not backing down from his comments that Cubs fans are obnoxious. Reed Johnson is getting a chance to lead off.

• Raul Ibanez is trying not to analyze his hot start, writes John Hickey. Richie Sexson had a good night, but his work was overshadowed. Carlos Silva is using a new pitch against left-handed hitters.

• Andruw Jones said, in the aftermath of a rough night, that he knows what a strike is.

• Torii Hunter was The Man for the Angels, as Mike DiGiovanna writes, after being involved in an auto accident on his way to the park. Francisco Rodriguez has not been his same old shut-down self this year.

• Paul Lo Duca landed on the DL, as Ben Goessling writes. Nick Johnson helped the Nats break out.

• Cole Hamels lost his showdown with Johan Santana, as Sam Carchidi writes. There is no question that Santana makes the Mets better, writes Jim Salisbury.

• The Pirates wasted some offensive opportunities. Some of the Pirates didn't feel the earthquake.

• David Ortiz's frustration seemed to disappear with one swing, writes Amalie Benjamin. Daisuke Matsuzaka had pitch count issues but won. Jed Lowrie might get a look at third base.

• Daniel Cabrera impressed the Yankees with his stuff.

• Joba Chamberlain may be back soon. Phil Hughes got shelled, as George King writes.

• Brian Bannister had one of those games. The comparisons between Joakim Soria and Mariano Rivera persist.

• The Cardinals never lose. Chris Carpenter is set to throw in a bullpen session Sunday. Cardinals fans shouldn't worry about Troy Glaus's slow start, writes Bernie Miklasz.

• Jeff Niemann was crushed by the White Sox, failing to make it out of the fourth inning.

With Cliff Floyd out of action, the Rays picked up Dan Johnson. Within this same piece, there is word that the Athletics have had general conversations about a multi-year deal with Huston Street.

• Johan Santana won a duel of star lefties, as Ben Shpigel writes. Moises Alou keeps making progress in his rehab, writes David Lennon.

• The Jays continue to struggle for offense, writes Jeff Blair. The Jays could use some road rage, writes Richard Griffin.

• The Rangers' Luis Mendoza got lit up. Kevin Millwood, hammered on the shin the other day, had his regular bullpen turn and will start Sunday, as mentioned within this Evan Grant notebook.

• Houston's bleary-eyed opponents put away the Astros and Chris Sampson in the first inning. There were roster ramifications as the Astros activated Kaz Matsui, writes Brian McTaggart.

• The Detroit bats are rolling, and lifted the Tigers over the Jays Friday, as Jon Paul Morosi writes. Armando Galarraga had a striking debut this week.

• The White Sox got up off the mat and punched back Friday, as Joe Cowley writes. Paul Konerko is confident that he'll bounce back.

• The Cubs responded to complaints about a T-shirt that was being sold near the ballpark, and moved to shut down production of said shirt.

PED ZONE

• Brian Roberts says he was first exposed to steroids after being promoted to the majors in 2001.

• A trainer thinks he might be the "Max" being bandied about by Jose Canseco, as Michael Schmidt and Tyler Kepner write.