Joey Votto is really looking forward to rounding the bases.
The Cincinnati Reds first baseman hasn't hit a homer since June 24 last season, when he connected off Scott Diamond of the Minnesota Twins. He tore cartilage in his left knee while sliding into base and needed two operations to fix the problem, sidelining him for 48 games.
When he returned, the knee wasn't back to full-strength and it showed in his swing. The NL's 2010 MVP was reduced to hitting mostly singles.
He's gotten stronger in the off-season and he's ready to see how the knee holds up when he plays baseball again. He's looking forward to hitting his first home run, "hopefully opening day." The 29-year-old had his physical Friday morning and passed all of his tests.
"They had very positive things to say, but ultimately the real test is on the field," Votto said. "I am just trying to get my legs back to 100 per cent. It's not perfect, but I think that after surgery, my expectations — realistically you're not going to be perfect five months out.
"However, as far as movement, being able to do baseball stuff, hitting, throwing, I feel really good."
He injured the knee sliding into third base in San Francisco on June 29. He played in seven more games before tests found torn cartilage. He had surgery to fix it, then another procedure to remove a piece of cartilage floating in the knee on Aug. 11.
Votto had never been seriously injured until last season.
"I have sympathy. People's injuries resonate with me more because of my experience," he said. "It probably made me a better teammate. It made me more aware of my body and its limitations, no matter how good I'm feeling."
Votto knew he would be limited when he returned. Unable to push off his left leg as much as normal, he became more of a singles hitter. Pitches that he would drive into the gaps when healthy never made it to the wall.
"I knew what I could and couldn't do," Votto said. "I tried to make the most of it. Despite the lack of power, I was pretty proud of what I did do."
Before his injury, Votto was on pace to hit 66 doubles. The major league record is 67 set by Earl Webb of Boston in 1931. In the last 25 games of the season, Votto hit .316 with eight doubles. He hit .389 in the division series against San Francisco, but all seven of his hits were singles.
He finished with 44 doubles, just seven shy of the Reds team record held by Frank Robinson in 1962 and Pete Rose in 1978.
Votto still led the National League with a .474 on-base-percentage, but fell 27 plate appearances short of qualifying for the NL batting crown. He finished with a .337 average, while NL batting champion Buster Posey hit .336.
Even at less than full-strength, he helped the Reds clinch their second NL Central title in three seasons. They lost to San Francisco in the opening round.
Votto would like to get to the point where his knee is no longer an issue.
"I personally would like to feel like it is less in the forefront of me doing my job," he said.
Votto also would like to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. A native of Toronto, he played in the 2009 Classic. He planned to talk to the team's medical staff and front office about it.
"Ultimately, it should be a group decision," Votto said. "I'd like to play. Certainly spring training is too long this year. Why not?"