GOODYEAR, Ariz. — As the Reds were starting spring training, pitcher Kip Wells asked first baseman Joey Votto, "Are you happy?"
It's a simple question that sums up Votto's biggest challenge. Last season, he missed 21 games with depression and anxiety related to his father's death.
Votto also missed several games with dizziness and headaches caused by an ear infection but still led the team in most offensive categories and finished fourth in the NL in on-base percentage (.414) and fifth in slugging percentage (.567).
Votto, 26, said he is doing much better.
"I feel like I'm progressing, and I feel like things are getting better," he said. "I'm a long way away from where I was last year. But last year was tough, and last year's last year. I'm here now, and I'm doing better. That's all that matters."
Votto doesn't avoid talking about his struggle with depression but tries not to dwell on it.
"I'd really like for it to be part of my past and forget about it," he said. "Not only is that the healthiest way, you don't need to rehash it because it's not good for it."
His problems started in May, when an inner-ear infection caused dizziness and gave him a scare. Doctors initially weren't sure what was causing the problem and put him through a battery of tests. He missed 12 starts because of the dizziness, which was aggravated by plane travel.
In June, he went on the disabled list to deal with his anxiety and depression. He talked to the team about it when he returned.
"The only one who can truly understand that is him," former Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "Even if you went through something on your own, it's still different.
"In this game, with his skills, he's going to have a long career. He knew, from Day 1, that we had his back. He addressed the team. He's a strong kid."
A'S PITCHER RESTING: A's right-hander Justin Duchscherer is in camp and resting after a procedure Tuesday to relieve discomfort in his lower back.
"I needed quite a bit of sedation," Duchscherer said. "They couldn't get me under enough Monday, that's why I had to wait until (Tuesday). They gave me some and it didn't work, so they gave me more and then I woke up and we were done."
VLAD TO PLAY FIELD: Vladimir Guerrero will do more than be the Rangers' DH this season. Manager Ron Washington said he plans to use the slugger in rightfield from time to time because "that's what he wants to do. We want to keep him happy."
In other Rangers news, centerfielder Josh Hamilton, the former Rays prospect, left morning workouts after bruising his shoulder and is day-to-day.
INDIANS: First baseman Russell Branyan finalized a one-year, $2 million contract that brings the slugger back to the town where he started his career. He has played for eight teams in a 12-year career, including the Rays for part of the 2006 season.
MARINERS: Left-hander Cliff Lee completed his first spring bullpen session without any problems with his left foot, which needed surgery almost three weeks ago to remove a bone spur.
METS: Catcher Rod Barajas and the team finalized a $500,000, one-year contract.
NATIONALS: Right-hander Livan Hernandez signed a minor-league contract and will compete for a spot in the rotation in his third go-round with the team.
PADRES: First baseman Adrian Gonzalez said he won't sacrifice money for security the next time his contract ends. Gonzalez, who has one year left on his deal with a team option for 2011, said he'll look for "fair value" the next time he hits the market.