Cincinnati Reds' player Johnny Cueto adjusts his sunglasses during the team's first day of spring training practice Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher
February 22, 2015

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) The real test for Joey Votto will come once spring training officially starts for Cincinnati's position players. For now, though, he's encouraged.

Votto is one of the Reds' main concerns heading into the first full-squad workout Tuesday. The first baseman played in only 62 games last season - none after July 5 - because of strained muscles above his left knee.

The first baseman had hoped to return before the end of the season, but the injury was slow to heal.

''I haven't gone through the evaluation process with the strength staff yet, the doctor and the baseball people,'' said Votto, who arrived on Saturday. ''I feel very good now, though.''

Votto spent the winter in his hometown of Toronto, working at getting the leg back to full strength.

''I've been swinging, throwing,'' Votto said. ''I'm taking groundballs and running. It feels like a big contrast to where I was during the season and at the end of the season.''

Votto was the NL MVP in 2010 when he batted .324 with 113 RBIs and 37 homers. In April 2012, he got a 10-year, $225 million contract.

He had two arthroscopic operations on his left knee in 2012. He played all 162 games the following season, batting .305 with 24 homers and 73 RBIs. He also walked a club-record 135 times as teams avoided giving him much to hit.

Votto's penchant for taking a base on balls rather than swinging at a pitch just outside the strike zone has been questioned by fans who think he should be driving in more runs as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. Votto isn't going to change his approach.

Votto isn't surprised by the second-guessing, given the size of his contract.

''I think that I've proven when healthy that I'm a helpful part of the team,'' Votto said. ''In terms of being in the middle of it - I have to choose my words carefully - I think it is really silly. And I'm not going to use the word ignorant, but ignorant. ''

''I also think that there is some validity to it because it is coming from a perspective that is being nostalgic. I don't think that everything has been taken into context,'' he said.

Votto expects the questioning to continue until he gets back to driving in runs the way he did in 2010.

''I'm the big-money guy that is supposed to do certain things and has done certain things in the past,'' Votto said. ''They expect it in the future. I'm not doing it, so let's talk about it.''

The Reds' offense had trouble scoring runs last season. Right fielder Jay Bruce struggled after having knee surgery, but is fully healed. The Reds also acquired Marlon Byrd to play left field, which was a particular problem last season.

That leaves Votto in the spotlight during his comeback.

''I'm glad I can be a lightning rod, as long as I'm performing,'' Votto said. ''Whether it's the 2010 version or the 2013 version, you cannot deny that I have been able to provide value to the team. In both examples, I was part of a playoff team.''

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