Joey Votto better as new season begins

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As the Cincinnati Reds were starting spring training, pitcher Kip Wells asked first baseman Joey Votto, "Are you happy?"

It's a simple question that sums up Votto's biggest challenge. Last season, he missed 21 games because of depression and anxiety related to the death of his father.

Votto also missed several games with dizziness and headaches caused by an ear infection but still led the team in most offensive categories -- batting average (.322), runs (82), home runs (25), doubles (38) walks (70) and total bases (266).

The 26-year-old Votto said he is doing much better as the new season begins.

"I feel like I'm progressing and I feel like things are getting better," Votto said. "I'm a long way away from where I was last year. But last year was tough and last year's last year. I'm here now and I'm doing better. That's all that matters."

Votto doesn't avoid talking about his struggle with depression but tries not to dwell on it.

"I'd really like for it to be part of my past and forget about it," he said. "Not only is that the healthiest way, you don't need to rehash it because it's not good for it."

His problems started in May, when an inner-ear infection caused dizziness and gave him a scare. Doctors initially weren't sure what was causing the problem and put him through a battery of tests. He missed a dozen starts because of the dizziness, which was aggravated by plane travel.

In June, he went on the disabled list to deal with his anxiety and depression. He talked to the team about it when he returned.

"The only one who can truly understand that is him," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "Even if you went through something on your own, it's still different.

"In this game, with his skills, he's going to have a long career. He knew, from Day One, that we had his back. He addressed the team. He's a strong kid. A lot of great players don't have to deal with adversity; they're good right away. And for him to deal with that the way he did says a lot," he said.

Votto has emerged as one of the best hitters in the National League. He finished in the top five in the league in batting average (fifth), slugging (fifth) and on-base percentage.

"It's a breath of fresh air and is good for the game to see that the best hitter is also the hardest worker," Gomes said. "There are guys in this game that are born with the talent to be a baseball player. You can go to the dish, be out of shape and hit a 94 mph sinker, that's just what you're put on the Earth to do. Can Joey do that? Probably. But it's so good to see him put the work in."

In the offseason, Votto worked hardest on his defense. With the signing of Orlando Cabrera last month, Votto became the only member of the projected starting infield without a Gold Glove. Cabrera has two, second baseman Brandon Phillips has one and third baseman Scott Rolen has seven.

"I've noticed that," Votto said. "I'm sure they'll let me know. But that's not a bad thing. I worked really hard in the offseason on my defense. I was aware of that. These guys are clearly good defensive players. You've got to keep up with it. I'm not saying I'm trying to go out and win a Gold Glove, but I have a responsibility to keep up with my teammates."