CINCINNATI — The Reds started their final homestead of the season on Monday, beating the Minnesota Twins, but another storyline hung over this six-game, two-team set: There’s a chance it’s the last time Joey Votto plays in Cincinnati.
The Reds have a $20-million option on Votto’s contract for next season with a buyout of $7 million. It seems unlikely the team would pick up the option, but could work out a deal for him to stay. He could also go elsewhere or retire.
After going 2 for 4 with a pair of RBI on Monday, Votto addressed the possibility that this could be his final homestand in a Reds uniform.
“I don’t think about that,” Votto said. “You know, I’ve had moments where it’s crossed my mind, and the nice thing about playing competitive ball is that you’re thinking about today’s game and performing well. You’re so caught up in the game, the competition that day and it feels like this past year-plus for me personally has gone by really quickly. It’s been a whirlwind.
“I feel like, leaving surgery, I’ve either been rehabbing or attempting to get back into games or being in games and trying to find a competitive style while also doing the rehab, while also finding, not new normal, but trying to get back to a strong place physically. It’s just gone by so quickly,” he continued.
“As far as this being a last homestand, if that’s the case, I can’t do anything about that — I don’t want to say I can’t do anything about that — I just am having a really good time playing in really meaningful baseball with some really fun teammates. And so however it shakes out, I’m good. I’m good. I just want to help out. I just want to play. All I’ve ever wanted to do is play. It’s the most important thing to me.”
Slimming down to a four-man rotation
(Top photo of Greene: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images)
With three off days for the Cincinnati Reds over the final two weeks of the season, the team will be able to move to a four-man rotation beginning with Hunter Greene’s start against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.
Greene will not only start Wednesday, but as the schedule lines up, he would either start the final game of the season, Oct. 1, at St. Louis, or if the team has already clinched a playoff spot, he’d be available for the first game of the National League Wild Card Series.
Rookie left-handers Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson will also be a part of the rotation and the final spot will come down to either rookie right-hander Connor Phillips or 31-year-old righty Ben Lively. The other could be in the bullpen.
That bullpen has been a strength for the Reds all season and will gain even greater significance over the final two weeks of the season.
“We’re basically in the playoffs right now for the rest of the way,” Reds manager David Bell said before Monday’s game with the Minnesota Twins.
The Reds have used 17 starting pitchers this season, tied for the most in the National League with the Dodgers, while the A’s lead all of baseball with 23 starters used.
There had been hope that right-hander Graham Ashcraft could return at least for the playoffs, but he will have surgery to relieve the stress reaction in his right big toe. The surgery isn’t supposed to impact his availability for spring training.
Still, the Reds are limping toward the finish line with their rotation and can use some luck beyond the fortuitous off days. An opener could get the start on Tuesday, but Lively is expected to get the majority of innings.
Greene is 2-2 with a 6.08 in his five starts since returning, but 2-0 with a 1.59 in his past three. Williamson has made two starts since returning from COVID-19, going 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA, logging four innings in each start. Abbott is 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA over his past five starts, dating back to August. 23. He pitched into the seventh inning against the Cubs on Sept. 2, but hasn’t pitched more than five innings in any other game over that period.
On the more positive side, the Twins are the last team the Reds face this season with a winning record.
Outfielders Harrison Bader and Hunter Renfroe, both acquired off of waivers after the trade deadline, are unlikely to play for the Reds again this season.
Bader had an MRI on Monday and was placed on the injured list with a right groin strain. He could return for the playoffs, but that would be a long shot.
With Bader out and Jake Fraley limited on defense, Renfroe was designated for assignment to make room for outfielder Stuart Fairchild, who had been on the COVID-19 injured list. Renfroe was dealing with a hamstring injury even before the Reds acquired him and that limited his running ability and his starts while with the Reds.
Both Bader and Renfroe are free agents after this season.
Top picks in town
The Reds’ top three picks in July’s draft — right-handers Rhett Lowder and Ty Floyd, as well as infielder Sammy Stafura — were at Great American Ball Park along with their families on Monday before going to Arizona to participate in the team’s instructional league workouts.
Reds manager David Bell got to meet the players, who were given a tour around the stadium and introduced to the media in a press conference with all three wearing home Reds jerseys with the No. 23 and their names on the back.
The Reds could probably use either Lowder or Floyd about now, but neither has pitched competitively since being drafted after long runs in their college seasons with Wake Forest and LSU, respectively. Lowder spent a month in Dayton with the Dragons on the development list, which allowed him to travel and work out with the team, but not pitch in games.
“It was awesome to get to Dayton, I’d spent about a month in Arizona, so it was good to be back with the team in the dugout,” Lowder said. “It was good to get used to minor-league life and being so close to here.”
Lowder noted that he’d pitched against Abbott in college, so as far away as a big-league call-up might seem, it felt attainable due to the number of young players the Reds have on their roster.
“It’s definitely encouraging and something to look forward to,” Lowder said.
The week ahead
After three games with the Twins, the Reds have another off day and then three against the Pittsburgh Pirates at home to finish off the home schedule for 2023.
The week that was
The Reds won both their series last week, but entered Monday out of the playoff race. Cincinnati took two of three against both the Tigers and Mets.
• SS Matt McLain (right oblique strain) took batting practice on the field Monday. If all goes well, he could be playing in rehab games in Louisville by the end of the week and join the Reds in Cleveland on Sept. 26.
• LHP Alex Young (COVID-19) was activated on Monday. He struck out the side for Louisville Friday in his lone rehab appearance.
• OF Stuart Fairchild (COVID-19) was activated on Monday. He played three games on a rehab stint in Louisville, going 2-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts.
• RHP Tejay Antone (right elbow tendonitis) is expected to return before the end of the season.
• C Luke Maile (left hand contusion) was out of the lineup Saturday, the first time this season he didn’t start behind the plate with Abbott on the mound. As of Monday afternoon, it did not appear that he would require an IL move.
• RHP Vladimir Gutierrez (right elbow surgery) will have surgery to remove bone spurs in his right elbow on Wednesday.
Minor League Roundup
• Triple-A Louisville (72-70) — Lyon Richardson wasn’t able to get out of the first inning in either of his two starts since going to Louisville. In both games this week, he recorded two outs, with one strikeout in each outing. On Tuesday he walked four, hit a batter and gave up two hits. He was charged with seven earned runs. Sunday, he walked three and allowed three hits, giving up four earned runs.
The Bats have six games remaining, hosting the Iowa Cubs starting Tuesday.
• Double-A Chattanooga (70-67) — SS Edwin Arroyo was called up to the Lookouts after Dayton’s season ended. He got off to a quick start in Louisville, going 6-for-17 in his first four games. Half of those hits have gone for extra bases with two doubles and a triple.
The Lookouts were the first-half division champions and travel to Tennessee for Game 1 of the best-of-three Southern League North Division Series. Game 2 is Thursday in Chattanooga with Game 3, if necessary, the next day at the Lookouts’ AT&T Field.
(Top photo of Votto: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)