To the chagrin of some Reds fans, Joey Votto continues to insist on getting on base. To the delight of most, he doesn't stay on them for long.
Outside of Chavez Ravine, Votto has been one of the hottest hitters in the National League during the season's first week, and he continued his assault on baseballs Friday. The first baseman swatted two two-run home runs against the Cardinals, helping the Reds secure a 5-4 victory and stay undefeated through four games.
He went oppo Votto in the first inning, poking a pitch over the left field fence to score Billy Hamilton. He hit one to nearly the same spot in the third, barely clearing the left-center wall for his second homer of the evening. Votto was later intentionally walked -- even when he's raking he can't avoid a free pass -- and stole a base for good measure.
It was the culmination of a strong first few games for the 31-year-old. Through four games, Votto is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with three home runs and eight RBI. It's the quickest Votto has ever gotten to three homers in his career, and he's well on his way to his best April ever -- Votto hasn't hit more than five home runs in the month of April in his eight seasons in the majors.
"I didn't have a great spring," Votto said. "But I felt good. I thought physically I was in good place, which is what I usually point to for long-term success in the season. Again, it's really early in the season. I'm just trying to play every day, every pitch and compete and try to keep up with my teammates."
Votto likely won't return to the power output he enjoyed in 2010 and 2011, but he's certainly showing encouraging signs that he's healthy after a quad strain limited him to 62 games last year. When on the field he's one of the best in the game, and 2015 could be a heck of a comeback year for the former MVP.
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The start of the season has been less promising for Ian Kennedy.
The Padres starter, who enjoyed a resurgent year in 2014, exited his start Thursday against the Giants after 2 1/3 innings with a left hamstring strain. Before the injury, Kennedy had been pitching well, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out two over 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
The team waited to make a decision on Kennedy until Friday, but Padres manager Bud Black said the disabled list was the best decision in the end.
"Overnight, Ian made some progress, but hamstrings are tricky," Black said. "Probably the best thing to do for Ian is to put him on the DL. ... Now we can really make sure the leg is healthy and 100 percent where he has a good deal of confidence both physically and mentally in his leg.
"Injuries are part of the game, but this looks to be a short-termer as far as the hamstring goes."
With Kennedy forced to the sideline, Odrisamer Despaigne is set to take his spot in the rotation. Despaigne filled in admirably for Kennedy Thursday -- on short notice, no less -- tossing a perfect 4 2/3 innings in relief.
But the hope is that Kennedy will be back sooner than later. The right-hander won 13 games and owned a 3.63 ERA with 207 strikeouts in 201 innings last season, cementing his place as one of the best starting pitchers in the National League. Still pitching in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks and now with a better offense backing him, an even better season was expected of the 30-year-old this year.
There's nothing saying it still won't be. But we'll now have to wait until late April to find out.
So It Gose
The Tigers offense has been one of the highlights of the first week, and perhaps no member of the team has been more of a pleasant surprise than Anthony Gose.
The Tigers broke out again Friday, scoring eight runs against the division-rival Indians, and Gose was once again in the middle of the action. The speedy outfielder went 2-for-6 with an RBI and a run scored.
An offseason acquisition from the Blue Jays in exchange for second baseman Devon Travis, Gose took a seat in favor of Rajai Davis on Opening Day but he's started every game since. In those three games, all he's done is go 8-for-17 with two doubles, a triple, four RBI, five runs scored and a stolen base.
And it's not just what he's done, but where he's done it, that has been noteworthy. Gose has batted leadoff in each of his starts, hitting in front of Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Yoenis ... you get the point. Gose is hitting atop the most potent lineup in the American League.
It's a good place to be for someone whose primary asset is speed. Gose has 271 career stolen bases in the minors and he's got 35 steals in 47 attempts as a major leaguer. He hasn't been running wild -- he got caught stealing Friday, making him 1-for-2 on the young season -- but he's scored five runs in three games from the leadoff spot. The steals will come.
Gose bats left-handed, so he might fall into some form of a platoon with Davis, but his performance has certainly earned him some more starts against right-handers. His speed is his calling card, but Gose is showing he's got other tools as well. The more often he's allowed to get them out of the shed, the better.
National League Quick Hits: Ryan Braun (rib cage) returned to the Brewers' lineup Friday. The star outfielder went 1-for-4 in his first action since Opening Day ... Christian Yelich hit a walk-off single to give the Marlins a 10-9 victory over the Rays in interleague play. It was the exclamation point on a good night for the 23-year-old, who finished 2-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored ... Mike Minor (shoulder) is close to resuming throwing off a mound. The southpaw won't be rushed back, so it will still likely be May or later before Minor resurfaces in the majors ... Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Friday that there's "a shot" Hunter Pence (forearm) returns to the lineup before the end of April. It would be on the shallow end of the recovery spectrum for Pence, who was expected to be out until May with a fractured forearm ... Pence's teammate Brandon Belt (ankle) is progressing and could return to the lineup Sunday ... Billy Hamilton has stolen seven bases in seven attempts through four games. He's nearly unstoppable once he gets on base ... never done spending on the international market, the Dodgers are said to be "very interested" in Cuban pitcher Yadier Alvarez, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The club won't be able to compete in the bidding for the 19-year-old unless he wins a petition to be allowed to sign before July 2. Otherwise, the big spenders in this period -- Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Dodgers -- will be limited to $300,000 in the upcoming signing period.
American League Quick Hits: Derek Holland left his 2015 debut after an inning Friday, and soon after he was diagnosed with a subscapular strain in his left shoulder. He'll be shut down for four-to-six weeks and there's no timetable for a return. Holland threw just 37 innings in 2014 as a result of multiple injuries, so it's another tough break -- and another huge blow to a Rangers team that's already without Yu Darvish for the year -- for Holland ... another member of the Rangers, Shin-Soo Choo, left Friday's game as well. Choo exited due to back spasms, a much less worrisome affliction than Holland. He's day-to-day for now ... Adam Jones had a big afternoon Friday, finishing 4-for-4 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored ... Ryan Rua, yet another Rangers player, is expected to land on the disabled list due to a sprained right ankle sustained Friday, according to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. The team has had terrible luck with injuries over the past season-plus ... Mark Buehrle picked up his 200th win Friday, quite a feat for a pitcher ... Kevin Kiermaier batted leadoff Friday, going 2-for-4 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored. The Rays aren't a potent offensive team, meaning Kiermaier could find a home atop a lineup that still features Evan Longoria and Steven Souza. He's worth an early flyer in deeper mixed leagues ... the Red Sox and Yankees played a game that presumably ended with an Aaron Boone home run, assuming it ended at all.