Resurgent Votto pounding homers again, keeping Reds in race

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CINCINNATI (AP) — In the midst of a sensational, homer-crashing career resurgence, Joey Votto talked recently about getting his 2,000th hit.

The 37-year-old Reds first baseman recalled how he had the ball from his first major league hit in 2007 but a few years later gave it to his dog Maris to play with. Then he wondered aloud in the interview whether in hindsight that a was good decision because it might not be healthy for dogs to chew on baseballs.

That led him to reassure reporters and dog lovers everywhere not to worry, he'd been a loving owner to the retriever-mix rescue, who has since gone on to doggy heaven.

“It was chewed up and spit out by him,” Votto said. “And he loved it, by the way."

It was Joey being Joey.

Back to the milestone hit, a solid single up the middle in a win over the Cubs on Aug. 16, the continuation of an impressive Votto outburst since the All-Star Break during which he's hit .320 and led the majors in homers (17) and RBIs (41).

“I was really happy with the 2,000th hit, because before the at-bat, I wanted to make sure my uniform looked good, my socks looked good. I made sure that way, if there’s a highlight, at least I look my best,” Votto said, maybe kidding, maybe not.

His homer total of 28 -- the most since he hit 36 in 2017 -- is even more improbable considering he was sidelined for most of May with a broken thumb.

He returned June 8 to hit .293 for the month, then hit .393 with 11 homers in July. He continues to burnish his Hall of Fame credentials, becoming only the second player in major league history to collect his 2,000th hit, 300th home run and 1,000th RBI in the same season. (Hall of Famer Billy Williams did it with the Cubs in 1971.)

“Joey Votto, every night, he does something cool,” said Reds second baseman Jonathan India, who is making a case for National League Rookie of the Year.

Votto and those around him said they saw the change coming. He started retooling his swing and his approach late last season, standing up straighter in the box, swinging at more pitches, consciously trying to hit the ball out and being comfortable striking out more. As a result, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever. And a lot of them are leaving the park like they've been launched from a bazooka.

“It sounds ridiculous, but I almost feel like I’ve relearned how to hit, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the fruits of that discovery," Votto said.

The 2010 NL MVP, who turns 38 on Sept. 10, insisted he doesn't think about his legacy and will walk away from the game when he's no longer competitive. He's more concerned with earning his huge paycheck and convincing the organization and fans that he's still worth it. The $251.5 million, 12-year deal he signed in 2012 pays him $25 million this season.

“He’s completely into what he’s doing right now,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He loves playing the game, he believes in what we’re doing as a team and he’s getting to enjoy it with a lot of other players and a team that just enjoys each other. I think that’s coming out now, but it’s been happening for a long time.”

Votto said reaching the career milestones and inking his name into the Reds' record books wouldn't be as much fun if the team wasn't contending, which in recent years hasn't been the case this late in the season.

Cincinnati, second in the NL Central, finished a stretch of 20 straight games by sweeping a four-game set from the Miami Marlins. The Reds, who lead San Diego by one game for the second wildcard, open a critical series Tuesday with division leader Milwaukee.

“To feel the momentum towards something we’re all collectively doing, and then to be a part of that with these individual milestones, is really pretty special," Votto said. "It is way better being on a winning club.”

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Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy

Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press

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