Rather than wait until he was in the proverbial on-deck circle, Joey Votto let the cat out of the bag on Monday: He will indeed play for Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Votto spoke with the media at the Reds Player Development Complex just hours before Cincinnati lost to the Diamondbacks, 7-2.
Although the Reds came into the spring concerned about a knee injury Votto suffered last summer, the slugger has looked his old self through the team’s first few starts, cracking a home run and two doubles among six hits in his 16 at-bats.
Earlier this spring, Votto said he might wait until Thursday, just a day before Canada opens the tournament against Italy, to announce his intentions. He insisted he’s received a full blessing from the Reds organization.
“I received a lot of support, first from the owner, Bob Castellini, who made it pretty clear that he wanted me to play for Canada. Dusty (Baker) was very supportive. Walt (Jocketty) was very supportive,” Votto told reporters. “All they wanted to know is if I can handle the load. And yeah, I’ve proven that through the games.”
Votto was held out of the lineup on Monday and he won’t play with Team Canada on Wednesday, when the squad squares off against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. But he said a second chance to play for his country was too tantalizing to pass up. He was on the club that hosted the tournament’s first round back in 2009, and although Canada dropped both of its starts, Votto had a huge game in a 6-5 loss the U.S., finishing with four hits including a home run.
“I’m very grateful that I’m on the team. It’s not very often you get to represent your country in a big tournament like this. I never got to play in the Olympics. This is the next best thing,” he said. “I had a great time in Toronto in 2009. I hope that we have a better time, we do some winning, move on, and hopefully win the tournament.”
Votto said he’d heard that some had scratched plans to attend the event because he was still a question mark, and he wholeheartedly apologized. Canada plays the U.S. on Sunday at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.
“I’m sorry to any of the fans if this affected their plans in any way. I know I have some former coaches of mine that I’m very close with still that coached me when I was 11, 12 years old who canceled their trip because of my uncertainty,” Votto said. “If anybody canceled their trip, I’m sorry.”
Others who declined invites to play for Canada included Pirates catcher Russell Martin, Mariners outfielder Jason Bay and pitchers Ryan Dempster (Boston) and Jeff Francis (Colorado). That didn’t dissuade Votto.
“These are the same guys from my hometown, basically, or within a few minutes of where I grew up,” Votto said. “You very rarely have a chance to play with your neighbor.”
To hit or not?: Monday’s game included a little controversy as Reds manager Baker and Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson didn’t see eye-to-eye on the use of a designated hitter. The Reds had Shin-Soo Choo slated to leadoff as the DH, but Gibson was looking to get new acquisition, Brandon McCarthy, some at-bats. Since the Diamondbacks were the home team, Gibson won the argument.
That forced Johnny Cueto to make an appearance at the plate in the third inning. Cueto didn’t take the bat off his shoulders, going down on three pitches. The sizable crowd at Salt River Field booed lustily.
Cueto said following his three-inning performance that he didn’t expect the at-bat.
“I was very surprised, yes,” Cueto said through Mario Soto.
“He was not allowed to swing the bat,” Soto added.
Choo later pinch-hit and flew out to left.
Extra bases: The crowd hushed when Cueto crashed to the turf in the first inning, trying to make an ill-advised throw to the plate on a slow ground ball off the bat of Eric Chavez. Instead of making an easy throw to first to get an out, Cueto wheeled home and fell as he fired. After talking with team personnel, he stayed in the game and showed no ill effects. He closed the first inning by starting a 1-4-3 double play. He later said he was fine. … Zack Cozart hasn’t hit the ball particularly well this spring, but the shortstop crushed a homer in the top of the of first, marking his third hit in 15 at-bats. … Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman are both expected to pitch today, when the Reds make their only appearance in Tempe against the Angels.