The Knee
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The Knee

Cincinnati entered this spring training without many questions but one of the big ones they had was the health of Joey Votto's knee. Though comments from him indicate he's needed a lot of extra work to prepare for their April 1 opener, the way he's been hitting Cactus League pitching suggests he's at least close to being back to 100%.

Every active MLB roster has fifty knees. There are eighty on their 40-man. When it comes to Cincinnati atop the list of concerns is the one belonging to Joey Votto that was surgically repaired last season. He was vying for his second NL MVP award when he tore the meniscus sliding in a game at San Francisco on the last day June. After that he finished with no home runs and nine RBI over the remainder of the campaign.

At first he tried to play through the injury but eventually went on the DL after the All Star break to undergo a surgical repair. Later there was a subsequent procedure to clean it up before finally returning to the lineup after missing fifty games. After resuming his season the results were mixed. First of all it was a strong finish with an on-base percentage over .500 in his last 25 games. However, when it comes to Votto, the Reds count on him to produce runs from the middle of the lineup and the absence of extra base hits was noticed.

Coming into spring training the big question was whether or not his knee had recuperated enough to return the power to his game. The good news is that he's now homered three times in the Cactus League while slashing a .326 AVG/ .431 OB/ .581 SLG line in his first eighteen games. Anyone watching the moon shot he blasted off of the Rangers Yu Darvish Saturday might think he looked like he'd never been hurt. In spite of that Votto commented afterward that he felt his swing is still behind schedule because of his knee.

Another encouraging sign was that both the Reds and Votto felt that he was healthy enough to represent his native Canada in the World Baseball Classic. As it turned out the Canadians played only three games and a player's health isn't often threatened by walking to first base. He went 2-9 with five free passes which gave him a .500 OB. Perhaps opponents felt their chances better by limiting offerings to him and going after the rest of the lineup which is something to which he's no stranger.

Of course Votto made headlines one year ago before the season by signing a contract extension before the season that made him the fourth player in MLB history to ink a deal worth more than $200 million. Everything was going according to plan for the first three months and then the rest of the lineup pulled together impressively during his absence to increase their division league and even went on a ten game winning streak.

The Reds finished around the middle of the NL pack in runs scored last year, improving over the second half after spending the first part of the season near the bottom. Votto is expected to be 100% and there's good reason for Reds fans to be excited in anticipation of watching him hit in an upgraded lineup with Shin-soo Choo leading off and Brandon Phillips setting the table instead of cleaning up after him. Ryan Ludwick finished 2012 strong and re-signed to provide a right-handed bat protecting him from the on-deck circle and Jay Bruce has increased his HR/RBI totals in each season of his career.

Actually when comparing previous spring trainings a case could be made that this is the best one of Votto's career. Often stats racked up in preseason have very little bearing on a player's success later. Votto himself warned that the impressive line he's put up thus far is deceiving and that after a lot of hard work he's just now starting to "feel like myself". The good news is that though deceiving, those stats do not hint of an unsound body and his self is just what the Reds want.