Votto re-energized this spring, says he was almost burned out

After reporting to his 10th big-league spring camp this week, Reds first baseman Joey Votto was quick to respond to a question about getting off to slow starts the last two seasons.

“Last year I felt I was bordering on getting burned out,” Votto said. “I needed to take some time off and I didn’t train in the offseason like I normally would. I enjoy work, but it was a weird time point in my career where I had been doing the same thing every year and I just needed a breather.”

Despite the slow start, Votto put up some big numbers in 2016, including a .326 batting average, 29 home runs, and 97 runs batted in.

Something new this year is the absence of many teammates Votto was accustomed to seeing every spring.

“It’s odd sometimes looking around the clubhouse and seeing certain players that I was used to playing with not around, but I’m really excited about the next group,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of it and excited to share future winning with them.”

Some of the veteran players and coaches think it’s time to stop talking about rebuilding, but Votto isn’t one of them.

“The younger players trying to establish themselves welcome that word,” Votto said. “They are saying to themselves this is our team, we’re the future, we are the team that’s going to be competing for a World Series one day. Sometimes you have to take a couple of steps back to move forward and that’s what’s happening right now.”

Votto has been hit with plenty of criticism for his approach to the game, but he insists it’s nothing he loses sleep over.

“I don’t mind, because where people hold me, I’m way above that, the way I perceive myself and my goals and where I see myself,” he said. “I haven’t felt much of their criticism. I don’t really hear it.”

Votto has been in the conversation for National League MVP the last two seasons, but he admits that playing for a losing team cancels out a lot of votes.

“You can’t be in that conversation if you do one aspect of the game,” Votto said. “I probably would have been far more embraced 50 or 75 years ago because I’ve had a steady batting average. That would have been a major marker and people would have pointed to that and said look how well he’s playing.”

While Votto sometimes struggles to find words about himself, others are a lot more generous with their praise, including Reds manager Bryan Price.

“Off the top of my head I can’t remember a player that I’ve been around who is so motivated to be so excellent,” Price said. “You can understand those first couple of months last year was such a grind on Joey because the work ethic and the results on the field were so different. His influence on us is huge and it’s huge that he’s healthy and out on the field because he makes us a better ballclub.”

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