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Votto expects pre-injury performance in '13

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Just like every other Reds position player going through the first full-squad workout of Spring Training on Friday, first baseman Joey Votto stretched and ran. He took ground balls and worked through fielding bunt plays in drills.

After that he took a full round of batting practice and even cleared the right-field fence once, by a big distance.

Of course, the 29-year-old Votto, the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player, isn't like every other Reds position player. Not when he's the one with a $225 million contract and the only one in camp who had two operations on his left knee last summer.

The big question all winter was about Votto's readiness for camp. The first hurdle was cleared when he completed and passed his physical with medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek and head trainer Paul Lessard without issue.

"The next test is obviously going to be doing Spring Training-type stuff, which is pretty much the ultimate test," Votto said. "But I did all of my baseball stuff beforehand, training on a consistent basis. I did nothing but progress. I feel really good. I can't put a number on it. but I don't see any reason I can't continue to play like I did before the injury."

Votto is not playing with any restrictions, and he will not be limited.

"It's regular until he proves that he's not," manager Dusty Baker said. "I haven't heard anything from the trainers. I haven't heard anything from Joey. I assume he's a regular player."

On June 29, during a game in San Francisco, Votto slid into third base and later experienced persistent discomfort in his left knee. An MRI performed a couple of weeks later revealed that he'd torn the medial meniscus cartilage and required arthroscopic surgery.

Less than a month later, a second procedure was needed to remove a floating piece of cartilage. In total, Votto missed 48 games, and when he returned in September, he was far from 100 percent. He finished the season batting .337 with 14 home runs, 56 RBIs, a league-leading 94 walks and a 1.074 OPS in 111 games.

Although he was able to get on base in 24 of his final 25 games, Votto did not hit a home run after being activated. He also went without a homer or an RBI in the five-game NL Division Series, vs. the Giants.

"It was better than not having him," Baker said. "Having that threat means a lot. And he makes your lineup. You can't bring that back. Last year was last year. This is a new year. We're starting over again."

Votto spent the offseason rehabilitating and strengthening his legs, and he didn't take on any baseball activity until late in the winter. He came into camp a few pounds heavier, at 226, and shaved off the beard he was sporting during Redsfest in December.

Votto admitted that there were times of doubt in the days and months leading up until Friday.

"Patience was the key. I learned a lot of lessons from this experience," he said. "Don't take your time on the field for granted. I hustled to get back on the field to play after my injury because I missed playing so much. I missed playing. I missed competing. I missed helping out the team."

Votto, who hails from Toronto, feels well enough that he would like to participate in the World Baseball Classic as a member of Team Canada. He was not on the provisional roster submitted last month, but he could be added.

"I'm going to talk to the staff, [general manager] Walt [Jocketty], Dusty and the front office in general," he said.

There will be one change to Votto's game post-surgery. You won't likely ever see him sliding on his left side again.

"I switched legs. It's a process," he said.

Votto showed neither a sign of a limp nor a favoring of his left knee as he went through the first workout of camp, but that didn't mean that everything felt the same as it did pre-injury.

"No, I just had surgery five months ago," he said. "It doesn't feel the same, but it's done nothing but improve. The doc says if he saw me at random, he would have said he couldn't tell I had some sort of injury. The test will be on the field. I'll hit that first home run, and everyone will relax."

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.

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