Votto celebrates birthday with 4-hit game

First baseman trying to be first to hit .400 in 2nd half since Ichiro in 2004

Votto celebrates birthday with 4-hit game

PITTSBURGH -- Reds manager Bryan Price was the pitching coach for the Mariners in 2004 when Ichiro Suzuki batted .429 after the All-Star break. That was the last time in Major League Baseball a player hit .400 in the second half of a season.

Joey Votto could soon change that. During an 8-7 Reds win over the Pirates on Saturday -- also his 33rd birthday -- Votto was 4-for-5 with a home run to give him a .427 average in the second half.

"It's special when you see this type of productivity over this period of time," Price said. "I don't want to take it for granted. I think it's easy to do that when you're around it every day. The numbers don't lie. He's having an unbelievable second half."

Achieving a rare second-half feat wasn't seemingly a priority for the first baseman.

"I'm trying to do as well as I can. It's not something I'm thinking about at all. It's pretty unlikely. We'll see," Votto said.

With 21 games left in the Reds' season, it's certainly possible a slump could bring Votto below .400 for the half. But all his numbers have been trending upward since June 1.

Votto is batting .318 overall, his highest average of the season, with a .436 on-base percentage and .530 slugging with 23 homers and 82 RBIs.

On May 31, Votto was batting .213 and he has since led the Majors in hitting and OBP. While this is a forgettable year for the team, Votto has shown no signs of taking his foot off of the gas.

Votto's four-hit birthday

"In my experience, all players feel a responsibility to do the best they can. I'm just one of the guys," Votto said.

Few guys have produced as consistently as Votto has since he debuted in 2007.

"I watched George Brett on television flirting with .400 all season [in 1980]," Price said. "I can't imagine it looked that dissimilar to what Joey's doing now, but over the course of an entire season. Line drives all over the plate, occasionally hits one out of the ballpark. A lot of contact, great strike zone command and an unbelievable ability to get on base. You're sitting at .430, .430-plus on-base percentage. Holy cow, that creates a lot of opportunities."

A triple shy of the cycle on Saturday, Votto started the decisive three-run fifth-inning rally with a leadoff double when it was a 4-4 game. In the top of the ninth, with a 7-6 lead, he hit reliever Juan Nicasio's 1-0 pitch to right field for a leadoff homer that provided valuable insurance and the difference in the game.

Votto is not viewed as a traditional "rah-rah" leader and is often more workmanlike with his daily approach. That's something younger players in the clubhouse can emulate and some are certainly paying attention.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart is one of those teammates that takes notice.

"First of all, he's incredible," Barnhart said. "You see him come to work every day and put in so much time in the cage hitting. The guy is unwilling to waver from his approach. That from my perspective is what is so special. You go out and there are so many different types of pitchers that you face -- left-handers, right-handers, guys that throw hard, guys that don't - and he continuously sticks to his approach. It's incredible to watch."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.