CINCINNATI — Joey Votto hit a home run on his return to the Cincinnati Reds lineup after a 10-month absence that followed surgery to repair his left bicep and rotator cuff.
The 39-year-old finished sixth and played first base in Monday night’s series opener against Colorado in their first major league game since Aug. 16. The 2010 NL MVP hit a 104.4 mph lineout to center in the second inning and then drove a first-pitch, belt-high fastball from Austin Gomber to opposite field right in the fifth. The 102 mph drive landed about a dozen rows in right field spots and gave the Reds a 3-1 lead.
After rounding bases on his 343rd home run, Votto left the Reds’ dugout to call to the curtain. He wore a ceremonial Viking helmet and cloak. He hadn’t hit a home run against Milwaukee’s Jake McGee since Aug. 6 of last year.
Votto was greeted with a standing ovation as he walked to the plate in the second inning, removed his helmet, waved at the crowd and then patted him on his heart.
Kevin Newman hit a home run in Gomber’s fourth pitch from the bottom of the first pass and Nick Senzel hit a solo home run in the second, his first home run since returning Friday from an IL stint due to a right knee irritation.
Cincinnati started on an eight-game winning streak, the longest since 2012.
“I feel a lot more like myself,” said Votto. “I’m completely healthy again. Ten months is a long rehab. If I want to rejoin a winning ball club, it’s my responsibility to keep up with them.”
Votto underwent surgery on August 19, ending a season in which he hit .205 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs. At the time of the surgery, the Reds said they expected the six-time All-Star to be back on opening day.
On March 12, he made his spring training debut and hit .182 with a double and an RBI in eight games. He was then placed on the 10-day injured list and sent to Triple-A Louisville for a rehabilitation assignment from a minor league injury. Votto hit .184 with one home run and five RBIs by April 14 and was then placed on the 60-day IL on May 4.
He returned to Louisville on June 3 and hit .182 with two home runs and six RBIs in 12 more games with the Bats through Sunday. Cincinnati activated him Monday from the IL and placed right-hander Hunter Greene in the 15-day IL retroactive to Sunday with right hip pain.
Reds manager David Bell said Votto will play often but it will be a daily decision based on the encounters.
In the final season of a 12-year, $251.5 million contract, Votto is among the 20 players with 8,000 or more plate appearances to score .297 or better with a baseline percentage of at least .400 (.412) and a slugging percentage of at least .500 (.513).
He joins a team that started the night 37-35, a half game behind Milwaukee in the NL Central. The Reds have only made the playoffs once since 2013, when the postseason was expanded to 16 teams for the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic.
“I witnessed the culture in this clubhouse,” said Votto. “Things are changing for the better.”
Greene, a 23-year-old right-hander, is 2-4 with a 3.93 ERA in 14 starts and 100 strikeouts in 73⅓ innings
Right-hander Kevin Herget was tasked with clearing a spot for Votto in the 40-man squad.