Joey Votto's return to the Cincinnati Reds lineup for a three-game series against the host Toronto Blue Jays that opens Friday night also will be a homecoming.
The Reds first baseman, who is from the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, missed the past 15 games after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis on May3.
"I've performed so poorly to start the season, it's not something I'm comfortable with or used to," Votto said Wednesday from Dayton, Ohio, on a Zoom call with reporters. "Coming back from being on the couch or in bed for eight or nine days, I need to make sure that I'm in a good way physically or I risk injury or I risk poor performance."
Votto -- batting .122/.278/.135 with three RBIs in 22 games with Cincinnati this season -- has played with Triple-A Louisville and Class-A Dayton on a rehabilitation assignment.
"I mean, anything can happen, but nothing comes to mind that will keep me from being (in Toronto) on Friday," Votto said. "I feel well, I've been competing well."
He had a slow start in 2021 -- hitting .226 through May -- and missed a month that season with a broken thumb. After returning from the injury, he was one of the league's better hitters in the final four months of the season, batting .278 with 31 homers in 100 games after June 1.
"When I came back last year, it took maybe a month or so before I caught real fire," Votto said. "It's a six-month season. Whether I perform well the day I come back or as the season moves along, I have a responsibility to play well every single day. That's what my focus has been on."
The Reds defeated the host Cleveland Guardians 4-2 on Thursday afternoon to complete a two-game sweep. The game was played to make up for a postponement caused by rain on Wednesday.
Cincinnati will start right-hander Luis Castillo (0-1, 5.59 ERA) on Friday against Toronto left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu (0-0, 9.00). It will be Castillo's first career start against Toronto.
Ryu has faced Cincinnati seven times in his career (all starts), each when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 4-2 with a 3.70 ERA.
The Blue Jays' hyped hitters continued to struggle as a group on Wednesday in a 5-1 loss to the visiting Seattle Mariners in the finale of a three-game series. Toronto did not play on Thursday.
The Blue Jays are averaging 3.68 runs per game, 10th in the American League entering Thursday. They are batting just .190 with runners in scoring position, last in the AL.
"It all gets magnified," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. "When we swing the bats and everyone's fine, you can come back in a 4-1 or 5-1 game to win. It seems like now, when someone scores five runs, it feels like 10. That happens when your offense is struggling."
Toronto had two players extend career-best hitting streaks on Wednesday.
Santiago Espinal extended his streak to 12 games, going 2-for-4 on Wednesday. He is 15-for-40 (.375) during this streak, including five doubles and four RBIs.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was 1-for-3 with a walk to extend his streak to 15 games in which he is 16-for-54 (.296) with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs. He also has grounded into five double plays in that span, including one on Wednesday.
Toronto left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (left hamstring tightness) left the game after five innings on Wednesday. His status in unknown for the weekend series.
--Field Level Media