MINNEAPOLIS-Joey Votto's first career visit to Target Field carried a little extra meaning.
Not only was fellow Canadian first baseman Justin Morneau up in the Fox Sports North booth in his first series as a color commentator, but it gave the Cincinnati Reds star a chance to watch another influential figure from his younger days: Joe Mauer.
Growing up in Toronto, Votto would binge watch Major League Scouting Bureau video of Mauer taking swings. Still a catcher at the time, a 17-year-old Votto wanted to know what Mauer had that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2001 out of St Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall High School.
"Every day I went home and watched them," Votto said Sunday, April 29. "When you really want something, you tend to obsess. It was something I was really interested in. I think it's the sort of thing you dig around and find yourself."
The Reds took Votto 44th overall as a catcher in the 2002 draft, though he played just seven games at the position in the Gulf Coast League. As Mauer reached the majors in 2004 and went on to become a three-time American League batting champion, Votto continued to study his smooth left-handed swing.
"We're both left-handed hitters, so we're going to trend along the same lines with a lot of things," Votto said. "Certainly, watching his swing carried over into a lot of my work as a younger player. And then obviously when he got to finally arrive here in Minnesota and started performing well, watching his games and the way he hit, again, it was something that I think was very educational and something I took and put into my own game."
Votto, 34, reached the majors in 2007 and won National League MVP honors in 2010, one year after Mauer's MVP season for the Twins. A career .313 hitter with a .427 on-base percentage that includes six OBP titles in the past eight seasons, Votto has a well-earned reputation as "an on-base machine," as Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
"He's a little bit of a throwback, a guy who's not afraid to choke up and put the ball in play," Molitor said. "He looks like he's ready to pounce on any mistake at any time and still has the power component."
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Votto has accrued 56.1 career Wins Above Replacement. Mauer is at 54.7. Their career rate of chasing pitches outside the zone is nearly identical as well: 22.0 percent for Votto, 21.9 percent for Mauer.
"He's clearly one of the best in the game at it," Votto said. "He's a very fun hitter to watch and clearly as professional as they get. I like watching how someone hits in the game. He knows what the heck he's doing, and he knows I have a lot of respect for him."
Byron Buxton was due to test the hairline fracture in his left big toe with some light running Sunday.
If that went well, there was a chance he would take batting practice and attempt some other baseball activities over the final few days of the homestand. Other than fouling another ball off his toe, Buxton isn't believed to be at risk of a setback just by running.
"No one's told me that's the case," Molitor said. "Obviously those guys aren't going to put him in harm's way by having him do too much too fast."
Molitor had no postgame update on how Buxton did.
Sano still out
Third baseman Miguel Sano was not in the starting lineup for a second straight day as he recovered from a tight left hamstring.
"I know it's still bothering him a little bit to run," Molitor said. "I think he's feeling it when he's swinging. I'm optimistic. I know he wants to play, but we're going to have to be smart about how quickly we try to get him back out there."
Five recent games on artificial turf in Puerto Rico and Tampa Bay aren't believed to have caused the issue.
"I think he was fine coming off the turf," Molitor said. "I didn't hear anything until the other day (Friday). He felt it on one play early in the game, but he said he was OK to keep playing."