GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Fresh off the loss of Jesse Crain to a shoulder injury and still stinging from the sudden withdrawal of Russell Martin, the Canadian national team received a big boost Monday when Joey Votto announced that he will play in the World Baseball Classic.
The superstar first baseman from Toronto told a large throng of media gathered at the Cincinnati Reds training facility that any question about how his twice surgically repaired left knee would handle the rigours of Cactus League play had been answered positively, and that he was ready to go.
The decision is a boon to the Canadians, whose lineup was shortened by Martin’s decision to bail because he wasn’t allowed to play shortstop instead of catcher, and needs the impact Votto can provide.
“I look forward to playing for the team, I look forward to being part of the tournament,” said Votto. “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, but this is the next best thing. I had a great time in Toronto in 2009 and I hope we have a better time, we do some winning, move on and hopefully win the tournament.”
The Reds understandably had reason to be cautious with their US$225-million man, who was hurt on a hard slide into third base last summer.
The injury required two surgeries, one in July to repair a torn meniscus and another in August to remove loose piece of cartilage in knee and though he returned to play in September, he clearly wasn’t 100 per cent, posting a slash line of .316/.505/.421 in 25 games with eight doubles and no home runs.
This spring, Votto looks more like himself with a homer and two doubles in 16 at-bats over eight games.
“I was very clear to everyone that I needed the games to make sure my knee was healthy and heading in the right direction,” said Votto. “I feel confident in it and confident in my commitment. I feel I can comfortably play. I’ve never been hurt before, and I wanted a little more of a grace period before the tournament to make sure I’m ready for my primary commitment to the Cincinnati Reds.”
The 29-year-old won’t join the Canadians until Thursday when they work out at Chase Field ahead of Friday’s tournament opener against Italy, and he won’t play in Wednesday’s exhibition against the Reds.
The expectation is Votto and Justin Morneau will split duties at first base and designated hitter.
Asked about the plan, he replied with a grin: “I’d imagine I’ll share time with another former most valuable player.”
Jesse Crain withdrew late Sunday night and the Canadian team has yet to announce a replacement.