Votto bats over .400 in stellar 2nd half

Last player to achieve feat was Ichiro in 2004

Votto bats over .400 in stellar 2nd half

CINCINNATI -- By batting .408 in the second half, Reds first baseman Joey Votto achieved something that hadn't been done in Major League Baseball for 12 years. The last to bat .400 after the All-Star break was Ichiro Suzuki for the Mariners in 2004.

What did achieving the feat mean to Votto? Not a whole lot.

"It means the exact same thing as hitting .200 in the first half," Votto said. "It's like, boy, that's kind of confusing, and I'm glad that's over with -- both sides of it. I don't expect to hit .400. I don't expect to hit .200. I feel like, kind of, regress back to where I feel like is a little bit more realistic for me."

By going 1-for-4 with a fifth-inning single in Sunday's 7-4 loss to the Cubs, Votto finished the season batting .326/.434/.550 with 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. He led the league in on-base percentage, and he was second in OPS and walks.

Remarkably, Votto was batting a paltry .213 on May 31 before returning to production levels more typical for the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner.

"I didn't doubt that I would come back from the start," Votto said. "I was frustrated and I was in disbelief, but I knew that physically I felt good. My mind didn't waver. I stayed put, and I really wanted to come back from it. The only way I could have done that is if I played every day. I knew that was a really important part of the process."

And that is why the statistical number that means the most to Votto this season is 158, the number of games he played. Two of the four games he missed in 2016 were in June because he had the flu. If he had his way, Votto would have played all 162 games, like he did in 2013.

"I feel an obligation to the front office, my teammates; I feel an obligation to myself. But most of all, I feel an obligation to the fans," Votto said. "Just being out there every day knowing that someone gets done with work and they come to the ballpark and they expect me to play, and I need to be on the field to justify their ticket, to justify them tuning in. It means a lot to me to be able to give that to them or be a part of that."

What Reds manager Bryan Price appreciated the most about Votto's second half was his consistency.

"Who doesn't fluctuate or go up and down? Those periods of incredible success are typically followed by a period of at least some struggle. There really hasn't been a down cycle in the second half," Price said. "With Joey, every time he's up there, it seems like he's going to barrel the ball, or he's going to walk. That, to me, is the fascination."

One area that Votto would like to improve on is his defense, which was ranked near the bottom of the league according to advanced statistical metrics. He is motivated, especially when looking around at his peers.

"Personally, until [Mike] Trout came into the league, I thought every year that I would be in the conversation for best player in the game, and he [messed] that up for everybody -- Babe Ruth and Ted Williams included," Votto said. "He's ruining it for everyone. You can't be in that conversation unless you do every aspect of the game, and I love competing against the best, and it's something I take a lot of pride in and it's something I think I fell a little bit short on this year.

"Offensively, I felt like I was as competitive as I could compete with anybody in baseball, but defensively, I feel like I've got a ways to go. And it's exciting to have another challenge to overcome, so I'm grateful for that."

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.