PHILADELPHIA -- The Reds are hopeful that first baseman Joey Votto has avoided a serious injury after he remained in Cincinnati on Friday to undergo an MRI exam of his left knee.
Test results revealed no structural damage to the knee, but they showed a distal strain of Votto's left quadriceps muscle. The club made no roster move to put Votto on the disabled list before Friday's series opener vs. the Phillies, but it still remained a possibility.
"It means there's a reason for the soreness and the fatigue in the leg," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We'll collect as an organization after the game today and try to define the best course of either rehab or the best decision for Joey and the club."
Considering that Votto had two arthroscopic surgeries on the same knee during the 2012 season, there was enough reason for concern.
"I don't think initially the feeling was that it was going to be chronic or long-term debilitating. But until you check anybody out, you don't know what you can find," Price said. "Yeah, it is a collective sigh of relief, for sure, that it's not anything serious. It looks like all the structural stuff in the knee is great and intact. That's the positive thing to this point."
How exactly Votto suffered the injury remains murky, but it's been something he's been trying to play through without much success for at least a couple of weeks. Over his last 16 games, Votto is batting .182 with two home runs and two RBIs. The long balls came on consecutive days, including a May 9 walk-off shot in the ninth inning to defeat the Rockies.
In the second game of Thursday's doubleheader vs. the Padres, Votto was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk. He struck out on three pitches in each of the first two at-bats.
Votto was not expected to be available to the team for Friday's game.
"It didn't seem like something he couldn't play and something we were optimistic would get better throughout the process and the work he was doing on it. It just didn't," Price said. "There was more of a sense of weakness or fatigue in the leg, not so much soreness. It wasn't until yesterday that we got back to the whole genesis of what happened. Even that part, as far as the actual day, I'm not exactly sure. It didn't seem like it would be anything that would hinder him a great deal, and he was proactively working on regaining the strength and diminishing the soreness. It wasn't able to get better by playing every day."
Catcher Brayan Pena was in Friday's starting lineup at first base. It will be his fifth Major League game, and first start, at the position. Pena had been playing regularly for primary catcher Devin Mesoraco, who was activated from the disabled list before Friday's game.
Other candidates to fill in for Votto in the short term are third baseman Todd Frazier or backup corner infielder Neftali Soto. Prospect Donald Lutz has also been hitting very well this season at Double-A Pensacola, and he has big league experience from last season.
The Reds have already put 11 players on the disabled list this season -- including right fielder Jay Bruce, who is currently out after having left knee surgery last week to repair torn meniscus cartilage. Mat Latos, Aroldis Chapman and Tony Cingrani are among players who are or have been out for an extended time. Billy Hamilton has also missed a handful of games because of hand injuries.
"It's unbelievable. They told me to make sure I had my first-base glove," Frazier said before Votto's MRI results were known. "I was confused. I didn't know what was going on before I left. It's really weird. It's unfortunate. It's tough with the situation of guys going down. I've never seen anything like it. You've just got to keep playing."
Votto was limited to 111 games in 2012 after he had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus on July 17. That procedure came after he was injured sliding into third base in a June game vs. the Giants. He needed a second surgery on Aug. 11, after there were complications.
Last season, Votto played all 162 games and batted .305 with a league-leading .435 on-base percentage. But his numbers were down, as he had 24 homers and 73 RBIs.
Entering Friday, Votto was batting .257/.410/.449 with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
"I think everybody who watched him play wouldn't see any reason to suspect there was a concern," Price said. "I spoke with him throughout the course of the situation, and he said, 'I'm good to play.' It really doesn't prevent him from playing. He wanted to be out there to help his teammates, to help this club and give us a chance to win ballgames. It just got to the point where it was obvious that it was affecting his ability to play at the level we know Joey plays at with regularity. So we had to take a look at it."