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Reds’ roster plan once Joey Votto returns from injury

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This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON — As the Reds and their young stars have surged into contender status in the National League Central this month, it was easy to wonder how the club might accommodate its most veteran star — Joey Votto — once he is activated from the injured list. That day could be as soon as Monday. 

Add the returns of Nick Senzel, Jake Fraley and Wil Myers, and there’s a Reds roster logjam for general manager Nick Krall and manager David Bell to sort out.

“It is a good problem to have,” Bell said. “It’s something you really want to make the right decision on because we have players who are playing well. We have good players ready to come back that can help us.”

Senzel was the first player to return from an injury on Friday. When he was activated, Jose Barrero was optioned to Triple-A Louisville. It was an easy call, since Barrero’s playing time had been greatly reduced since the arrivals of Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz. 

But the decisions only get harder from there.

Fraley was activated on Sunday after missing time with a right wrist contusion. Votto and Myers will follow. And down the line — likely sooner rather than later — the club will want to promote slugging prospect and corner infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand from Louisville. 

How will all of the pieces fit? What becomes of players such as Senzel, Spencer Steer, Kevin Newman, Stuart Fairchild, Will Benson and others?

“That’s a great question. I don’t know,” Senzel said. “There’s a lot of tough decisions I’m sure are going to be coming up for them. But I know if [it takes] our attention, then it really does nothing but not focus here on the present moment. What we’ve got going here is way more important.”

With De La Cruz getting most of his time at third base, and TJ Friedl having cemented himself in center field, Senzel is going to move around the field in a super-utility role where he can play third base, second base and all three outfield spots. 

“I show up and they tell me where I’m at. And that’s where I’m going to go,” Senzel said. “Because we’ve got a really good club and got a lot of talented players. And we need everyone to contribute, and I anticipate probably moving around.”

Steer, who has played mostly first base this season, will likely shift to left field but also could move around the infield. His bat has become too valuable to keep out of the lineup. 

“I’m just doing what it takes to stay in the lineup,” Steer said. “I know [Bell] has got a lineup in his head that is best for this team and helps us win ballgames. If that’s me at first base, me at left field or any other spot, that’s the guy I will be and continue to be — play where I’m asked.”

Steer is tied with Jonathan India for the team lead in homers and has been one of its more consistent hitters. 

“If you produce offensively, you’re going to stay in the lineup,” he said. “At the same time, defense will help win ballgames, too. I will try to stay sharp on both sides of the ball and do my best to be out there every day.”

As for some of the others, the club could look to trade from its depth as it needs rotation and bullpen help. Those with Minor League options could get sent down.

“Nothing has been determined yet, but they are important decisions,” Bell said.

On the pitching side, Graham Ashcraft (left calf contusion) is expected to be back next weekend. The Reds don’t want to use a six-man rotation, so someone will have to go.

“That has not been determined,” Bell said. “There will be some moving parts this week.”

Bell will have one more decision to make after Votto returns from his rehab assignment at Louisville. Where should he bat in the lineup? Votto has normally batted second, third or fourth throughout his Hall of Fame-caliber career. But batting him ahead of speedsters such as Steer, McLain, Fraley or De La Cruz would slow them down if Votto is on base ahead of them. 

Don’t be surprised if Votto bats sixth.

“It’s a matter of days, no matter how you look at it,” Bell said of the veteran’s return. “We will see him soon.”

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