Reds put bat back in Votto's hands
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Post staff reporter
PITTSBURGH - Last season former Reds general manager Dan O'Brien kept Reds prospect Joey Votto up at night.
O'Brien had instituted a minor league-wide rule telling Reds players they weren't allowed to swing until they'd seen the first strike.
In theory, it was supposed to help batters develop patience. In practice, it took the bats out of players hands and, in Votto's case, killed his confidence.
"It drove me crazy. I couldn't sleep at night," Votto said Sunday. "This is something I wanted to do since I was a little boy and I felt like they were taking it away from me. I took it personally, and I think a lot of other players in the organization did too. The organization told us they didn't think we were good enough to discipline ourselves."
One of the organization's top prospects, Votto had a horrendous 2005, batting .256 with the Reds' high-Class A team in Sarasota after hitting .298 in 24 games at the same level in 2004.
"He was a victim of the rules that were implemented. He's a free-swinger who likes to hunt first pitches," said Jayhawk Owens, the manager at Class AA Chattanooga. "He's a very aggressive hitter at times. I've seen him go up first pitch - bam out of the park. He probably already has a handful of first-pitch home runs. That's not something he was allowed to do last year."
This year, with the bat off his shoulder, the numbers have been vastly different.
The 22-year old first baseman is leading the Southern League in all three triple crown categories (.327, 19 home runs, 56 RBIs).
"You just leave him alone and let him play baseball," Owens said.
Votto, a Toronto native, continued his hot hitting with a single in two at-bats for the World team in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park. Votto will be in tonight's Southern League All-Star Game in Montgomery, Ala., and will also be in the game's home run derby.
"I had a great time. It was awesome," Votto said. "It was everything everyone said and more."
It certainly helped that he had a hit, but he just missed another, flying out to center.
"I would have had a bitter taste in my mouth if I didn't at least have a little part of the game," Votto said. "I just missed (the second one)... just missed it. I would have loved to have seen the highlights."
BAILEY'S THUMB OK - It looked gruesome, but the cut on Homer Bailey's right thumb wasn't bothering him.
TV cameras focused on his right hip, where has smears of blood from wiping his cut thumb.
"I've done it many times. Look at my glove, I have blood stains from past times," Bailey said. "It doesn't hurt. Sometimes I can feel it in my location. It was just annoying to keep wiping it off."
Bailey explained that sometimes the fingernail on his middle finger will scratch his thumb after throwing a fastball and it cuts the top of his thumb.
"Last game before this one it might have happened," he said. "I may go six, seven games and it doesn't happen and then all of a sudden, it's one of those things. I need to start biting my fingernails more."
HOMER'S W - Following Sunday's game, a reporter asked Bailey when he started thinking about getting a win.
Well, the answer, by Bailey's response, was only after the question was asked.
"Did I get the win?" he asked. "Sweet!
"I didn't even know I got the win, I didn't know they'd give one."
NO EXCUSES - Waiting for the first strike wasn't the only edict O'Brien had passed down to the minor leagues. The former Reds GM also had a tandem pitching setup for the lower minor leagues, which meant there were two starters ready for every game and giving those teams eight-man rotations.
The idea was to help Reds players develop, no matter what it meant to the win-loss records.
Owens said instead it sent the message that losing was acceptable.
"There were policies implemented where guys were restricted and that's been taken away," Owens said. "There's no built-in excuse for losing. I want to win, period. I want to win, and I'll do everything I can to win. I think it's very important for the development of a major league ballplayer to be successful."
Owens' Lookouts took the division title for the first half of the season. Overall, Reds minor league teams have a record of 201-185. Last season they were 309-373, and other than Rookie League Billings, no team finished better than fourth.
"We're not expected to lose now," Owens said. "The sense of winning is very real for the Reds in the minor league organization."
JUST MISSED - Bailey was upset to hear the World team's lineup before Sunday's game.
Bailey had already been told he'd pitch the second inning of the game for the USA team, but with Votto batting third for the World team, he knew it was a long shot that he'd get to face his Lookouts teammate.
"Teammate or not, it's no holds barred," Bailey said of facing Votto.
Bailey even had a plan ready for facing Votto. The first pitch was going to go 10 feet behind his head - just for fun.
"Had I hit fourth, it would have been a lot better," Votto said. "I would have had to face him."