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Joey Votto explains power surge, Bryce Harper dishes on Dusty Baker

By
Alex Butler

July 11 (UPI) -- He didn't partake in the festivities, but on the night of the 2017 Home Run Derby, Joey Votto did somewhat explain his recent power surge.

Votto is tied with Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the National League lead with 26 home runs. Heading into this crushing campaign, the 11-year veteran never topped 37 home runs in a full season.

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"It's just some years you hit for a little more power than you normally would," Votto said Monday at Marlins Park. Stanton was knocked out of the Home Run Derby in the first round, upset by Aaron Judge's New York Yankees teammate Gary Sanchez. Judge went on to win the competition, in smashing fashion.

Votto has a league-leading .631 slugging percentage and 1.058 OPS, both career-highs. He hasn't led the league in both marks since he earned the National League MVP Award in 2010.

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The ever-patient five-time All-Star used the word "confused" when asked about how this season stacks up to those prior when it comes to going yard.

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When his swing stayed stoic, but the home run numbers didn't follow.

"In 2010, I was at least put in the position where I was leading the league in home runs," Votto said. "So, I don't think anyway about it."

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"Sometimes you look up at the end of the year or halfway through the year and you are not understanding. 'Where did what I want go?'"

Votto explains his hitting prowess as countering how he is "attacked" by pitchers. He says where the ball goes is just a "byproduct" of how he is pitched.

Teammate Zack Cozart says the slugger is "underappreciated."

"Being in Cincinnati, you don't get a lot of pub like you would in other places," said Cozart, who made his first All-Star team in part because of Votto's efforts to get him more votes. "I think if he was on a bigger market team, people would be talking about him daily about how special of a season he consistently has. This year he has been unbelievable and he hasn't really gotten, people talk about him a little bit...There are so many good first baseman you get kind of lost in it, but he hast to be up there."

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Cozart will hit ninth Tuesday for the National League in the 2017 All-Star Game, while Votto will have to come off of the bench. Fan voting resulted in Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman getting the starting nod over the best player from the Reds.

Votto says there is "not a better environment than the All-Star Game" to "compete with the very best."

"I've played with him my whole career and I feel like our relationship as teammates has grown," said Cozart, who joined the Reds' big league club in 2011.

"He has turned into a big leader on our team."

Votto has been in the league, and played for the Reds, for more than a decade. He has been the team's highest-paid player most of his seasons as Cozart's teammate.

During that time, the Reds have reached the playoffs three times. The team posted a 2-7 record and was booted in its first series in each postseason campaign. All of those runs came when the Reds had at least 90 wins during the regular season. They also all came under current Nationals manager Dusty Baker.

Now Baker is the skipper for another MVP: Bryce Harper. Baker's Nats have a 9.5 game lead in the National League East at the midseason break.

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"I think the biggest thing for Dusty is that he's all about family," Harper said Monday. "He's all about that camaraderie inside the clubhouse and he lets his veterans run that clubhouse. So he always has these little tidbits that he talks about and things like that. So the fact that he wants to help or if he has something for me...I'm always open ears with him. He's somebody you can talk to."

"If he has something for you, listen to him and talk to him about it. He always has an open-door policy, where you can go in and talk to him if you need anything. What a great manager he is."

"He's been great for our clubhouse, great for our team and this organization. It's been a blast."

That veteran mentality appears to have stuck around for Votto at this point in his career. At 33 years old, he has "turned into" a Reds leader.

"I used to be a little intimidated by him because you know, MVP and it's Joey Votto," Cozart said. "But now it's like, we are good friends and he's helped me out. Not only with this [All-Star Game] vote, obviously, but just becoming a better player. Everyday I watch him work. A guy like him, MVP, Silver Slugger, you can name it ... Gold Glover. The guy still works harder than anybody that I've ever seen, because he wants to be better and better."

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"That's why he is, in my opinion, the best hitter in the game. So yeah, it's cool to have him as a teammate."

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