Biggest question about Cincinnati Reds 2013 season: Are they healed?

CINCINNATI - As position players report in Goodyear, Arizona Friday to complete the Spring Training squad for the Cincinnati Reds, there is one concern lingering that will make or break the success of the team's 2013 season: Are they healed from 2012's injuries?

Joey Votto hit his last home run June 24, 2012, just a few days before he injured his knee sliding into a base against (of all teams) the San Francisco Giants.

That means, despite Votto's initial feeling he did not need an MRI to have his knee looked at, that the Reds MVP first baseman played in 45 games at the end of the season without a home run, including 30 games after he was supposedly "healed" following surgery.

It was obvious his swing was affected by the pain, and the subsequent recovery. The concern is, were the slight alterations in the lower body weight shift of his normally powerful swings permanent?

It's not that Votto was hitting poorly, the guy still hit .343 in September, but the lack of a home run, the decrease in doubles (Only eight in his final 30 regular season games compared to an average of approximately 14 doubles per 30 games prior to the injury), decrease in RBIs (Only nine in his final 51 games compared to 47 RBIs in his first 60 games), and the slow rolling ground balls that got through for hits as hard ground balls prior to him being hurt changed his game.

Votto was chopping at the ball mostly with his hands and upper body to reduce the amount of force he needed to exert by pushing through it with his legs. It led to a heck of a lot of line drives, but not much in the way of damage via one swing, which is what Votto built his MVP campaign on in 2010, and his high career numbers overall at the major league level.

Reds fans certainly hope Votto got back to the basics in his offseason workouts, and we'll certainly be watching him throughout Spring Training as to whether or not he's his old self again.

But that isn't the only injury Reds fans should be concerned about.

Johnny Cueto strained an oblique muscle in the biggest game of his career (Game 1 of the NLDS for those that don't remember, just eight pitches in).

It didn't appear to be a major injury, just enough of a tweak to keep him from pitching, but the fact that we haven't seen Cueto throw since is cause for concern.

No, the oblique isn't strained anymore, and Cueto said he adjusted his offseason program by taking time off to let the injury heal rather than throwing on it.

"I feel 100 percent," Cueto said.

But with his body starting from scratch, you can't help but wonder if he'll return as the same Cueto he was in 2012.

Cueto's throwing motion requires the significant use of the oblique muscles on every throw, and even if it doesn't hurt him, Cueto will need time to build back up to the strength he had throughout last season, in which he hurled a career best 19 wins and 170 strikeouts in a career-high 33 games and 217 innings pitched.

So it's pessimistic to think he won't perform at the same levels, but it's realistic to understand he will need time to get back to those levels after sustaining the injury so late in the year and resting for most of the offseason.

And the last injury that Reds players and fans alike should be concerned about recovering from is that of the mental injuries sustained at the hands of the eventual World Series Champion Giants in the NLDS.

One brilliant thing about the offseason is that it pushes the reset button on anything that happened in the previous year.

But there's something to be said for the psychological damage a bitter defeat in the hope of great glory that the Reds suffered last October, right down to the bitter end when Jay Bruce had a 12-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on.

The Reds on the field can react in one of two ways: Renewed sense of purpose with a vendetta to be successful in the wake of their horrid defeat, or, constantly put down by lingering inevitability that even though they had the right pieces in place, things still didn't come together.

Thanks to General Manager Walt Jocketty and the rest of the Reds organization, they've given both the players and the fans reason to stay motivated, keeping almost all of the team from 2012 intact (save for not-so-fan-favorite Drew Stubbs), and acquiring multiple new, solid ballplayers that can contribute immediately.

As for the fans, the beauty of sports is that much like winter and summer, it comes in seasons, and allows us to forget all about the bitter cold and the unbearable heat; or in 2012's case for the Reds, the bitter injuries and unbearable Giants comeback.

Attendance was up last year, and as a result of the Reds' always-desirable promotions list, the talent they have dedicated to put on the diamond and the ever-growing development of activity on the riverfront of Cincinnati, fans have every reason to be as excited as they've been since the Big Red Machine years.

 

9 On Your Side will be posting more reports from Reds Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona as the team prepares for the 2013 regular season.

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