GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Sporting a scruffy beard and shaved head, Reds first baseman Joey Votto was an early arrival to Spring Training on Saturday, two days ahead of the club's full-squad reporting date.
As expected, Votto was asked about his health and progress from the distal strain of his left quadriceps that limited him to 62 games last season. But he also waded into the ongoing debate that continued this past offseason in Cincinnati over his hitting approach that values getting on base more, along with his selectivity with pitches out of the strike zone.
"I think that's to be expected, because I am the guy who has the big contract," said Votto, who signed a 10-year, $225 million extension in 2012. "There are times where it can be a bit of a nuisance, because I have to answer a question. Most of it is noise. I think that I've proven, when healthy, that I'm a helpful part of the team. I do my part."
Votto tried to choose his words carefully, but also had a clear message for people who don't like his approach.
"In terms of being in the middle of it, sometimes I think it's really, really silly," he said. "I'm not going to use the word 'ignorant,' but ignorant. I also think there's some validity to it, because it's coming from a perspective that is being nostalgic. … Ultimately, it's entertainment. I'm part of the entertainment industry. If there weren't debates like this, then what the hell are we doing? I think this is great. I'm the big-money guy. I'm the guy that is supposed to do certain things and has done certain things in the past, and it's expected in the future. I'm not doing it, so let's talk about it, let's get after it, and I think that it's great."
Votto batted .255/.390/.409 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 272 plate appearances last season and did not play another game after July 5. Lifetime, he is a .310/.417/.533 hitter and hit a career-high 37 homers and had 113 RBIs in his 2010 National League MVP Award-winning season. In 2013, a season after he had left knee surgery, he played all 162 games. But while his on-base percentage was a league-best .435, his power production dipped to 24 homers and 73 RBIs.
"I'm glad I can be a lightning rod, as long as I'm a lightning rod while performing one way or the other," Votto said. "Whether it's the 2010 version or the 2013 version, you cannot deny that I have performed and been able to provide value for the team and able to help the team get to the playoffs. Both examples, I was part of a playoff team. I'm not saying the main part or anything like that, but I was a part of it. As long as I'm part of it, it's the most important thing. I think it's fun. No one is getting hurt. I should expect it."
According to STATS Inc., Votto was a .074 hitter (4-for-54) on pitches charted outside of the strike zone and a .313 hitter (52-for-166) on pitches where he swung inside the strike zone in 2014. For his career, he's a .180 hitter on pitches outside the strike zone and .359 inside the zone.
Recently, Reds great and baseball's all-time hits leader Pete Rose defended Votto.
"Joey Votto is just a good, pure hitter,'' Rose told USA Today on Feb. 11. "Why should he swing at balls out of the strike zone? Joe Morgan never did. Mike Schmidt didn't swing at balls out of the zone. Ted Williams didn't either. If Joey Votto was on the Big Red Machine, nobody would say anything. Joey Votto gets on base, and as long as you score 100 runs or drive in 100, you're doing your job."
Votto was forwarded the Rose story, and appreciated the words.
"Pete always has been very generous," Votto said.
There is no debating that the Reds need a full and healthy season from Votto to contend for the NL Central. Last season was anything but, of course, for Votto, but he was hopeful that he could contribute, meet expectations and be in the lineup daily.
"I come into camp every year with the hope and expectation of playing every game that is available to me," Votto said. "My goal is to play as often as possible and help the team in any way, shape or form that I can."
Votto wasn't ready to proclaim himself 100 percent or without limitations. He did spend the winter home in Toronto and was able to hit, throw, field and run -- calling it a "big contrast" from where he was at the end of last season.
"I haven't gone through the evaluation process with the strength staff and the [physical therapy] staff and the doctor and obviously, the baseball people," he said. "If I get a couple of days under my belt and get the [evaluations] done, I think we'll have a better idea of where we're at. As far as how I feel now, I feel good."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.