Just call him ‘First-Pitch’ Joey 

Posted: 12:50 pm Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

By Hal McCoy

CINCINNATI — Back from a wonderful few days in Salisbury, N.C., the only city in America that loves sport writers. I was inducted into the National Sportscasters & Sportswriters Hall of Fame. I was introduced for my speech by broadcaster George Grande and he gave the most magnificent introductory speech I have ever heard.

IT IS RARIFIED AIR for a player to hit three home runs in one game, but how about the ever-patient, ever-selective Joey Votto hitting three home runs on three pitches — three first-pitch home runs? And on his fourth at-bat, admittedly trying for a fourth home run, he swung at the first pitch and grounded out.

So, those three first-pitch home runs must have been perfect pitches to hit, right? Wrong. His first two came off former teammate Aaron Harang, now with the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Those were ridiculous,” said Harang. “The first one was a change-up away, out of the strike zone. The second one was down around his ankles. Just ridiculous pitches for him to hit.”

Of Votto’s fourth at-bat in the eighth inning, with the fans waiting to see history in a blowout game, teammate Todd Frazier said, “I told him, ‘Why did you swing at the first pitch on that fourth at-bat? You needed to build up the suspense, take time to go 3-and1 or 3-and-2.

MANAGER BRYAN PRICE was pitching coach at Seattle when Mike Cameron hit four home runs in his first four at-bats against the Chicago White Sox. Cameron was sent to Seattle by the Reds as part of the Ken Griffey Jr. deal. Price said Cameron had two more at-bats to make history, the first player to hit five home runs in one game, “But he was hit by a pitch with a breaking ball his fifth at-bat and flied deep, close to the wall, in his last at-bat to right center where he had hit two of his home runs earlier.”

OF VOTTO’S ONE-PITCH explosing off qusetionable pitches, Price said with a laugh, “There you go. Everybody is going to say he should expand his strike zone.”

BRANDON PHILLIPS was out of Wednesday’s lineup after pulling his groin on an awkward slide into third base Tuesday night.

“It’s a mild groin strain that we don’t want to turn into a significant groin strain, which is why he isn’t playing today,” said Price. “It is one of those day-to-day things. We’ll see how he responds to treatment today.”

Phillips has been an offensive dynamo lately despite a turf toe injury. His defense never suffers, remains the best at second base in baseball. His offense, though, has been down the last couple of years. But Phillips is on an offensive spree this year. When he left Tuesday’s game he was 0 for 2, ending an eight-game hitting streak that has pushed his batting average to .308.

“It’s the health perspective,” said Price. “You go back to 2013 and he drove in 103 runs. In June he was hit by a pitch when he had the highest batting average with runners in scoring position in the league. He was having a huge year.

“Last year he got off to a slow start and had a hand injury and was never the same,” Price added. So health has a lot to do with it and he is extremely motivated. He wants to play this game as long as he can. I don’t think he has an exit strategy. He wants to be an every day player for a lot longer than the duration of his current contract. He loves to play and that’s evident.”

THE EARLY EXITS of Phillips and Jay Bruce (ejection) forced Price to do some quick scrambling when Phillips left with the groin injury because center fielder Billy Hamilton was out of the lineup with a wrist injury. Price’s move was to move Brennan Boesch from center to right, Ivan DeJesus Jr. from left to second base, Kristopher Negron to center and Skip Schumaker to left.

“We had a lot of options and that speaks exactly to the point of having interchangeable pieces. It is a great benefit. You talk about a guy like Negron who hasn’t had a ton of opportunities and hasn’t had a great start offensively. But he played really good center field and made a couple of good reads off the bat,” said Price.

JAY BRUCE WAS remorseful over his ejection Tuesday night for negative remarks to umpire Adam Hamari on a called strike three. It was only the second time in his career Bruce was ejected from a game. And it came after Bruce reached the dugout and kept yapping at Hamari.

“It was because of how long I continued to express my displeasure,” said Bruce. “That’s not me, I’m not one to get thrown out of games. I take pride in respecting umpires and having as good of a relationship as I can with them.

“It won’t be a habit and it is not something of which I’m proud,” he added. “I let guys on my team down because we had a short bench to start with, so that was not ideal. It happens sometimes. I’m a guy who likes to stay in the game and play in the game.”