Bruce breaks out of slump against a lefty, of course
JUL 06, 2014 5:58p ET
CINCINNATI -- Jay Bruce swears he didn't realize exactly how long it had been since his last hit. It wasn't just that he had lost count at a certain point or that he didn't want to linger on the number 26.
His thoughts were elsewhere as he rounded the bases on a two-run home run in the eighth inning Sunday against Milwaukee left-hander Will Smith, a home run that indeed snapped Bruce's career-long 0-for-26 hitless streak and provided the eventual winning margin in a 4-2 victory at Great American Ball Park.
"I was honestly happy that we didn't have to play extra innings," said Bruce.
Bruce turned 27 years old in April but this is already his seventh season playing in the major leagues. He's approaching the franchise record for most games played in right field; he's at 860 after Sunday, just 29 behind the 889 played by Ivan Goodman from 1935-42. Since Bruce first came up in 2008 he has been known as a streaky hitter. Before this recent stretch, Bruce had a nine-game hitting streak in which he hit .457 with seven doubles, two home runs and nine RBI.
Some lulls and highs have been more pronounced than others in Bruce's career but they've all taught him the value of patience.
"I knew I wasn't going to go oh-for-the rest of my career," said Bruce. "I've been making hard contact throughout this little funk that I was in, the oh-fer. I feel fine. I didn't even realize I was oh-for-so much. I had a good road trip. The last three games in San Diego I didn't hit well but I was still hitting balls hard at people. That's just the way it goes with baseball. There's no way to explain it. There's no way to will your way out of it. You've just got to continue to keep moving forward and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves."
The home run was the 48th off a lefty by Bruce over the last five seasons. That's the most by any batter in the majors no matter which side of the plate they're swinging. It was the first time this season Smith had allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter.
Smith was ahead in the count, 1-2, but was paying attention to Brandon Phillips on first base after Phillips drew a walk on a nine-pitch at-bat ahead of Bruce. He got a 94-mph fastball up instead of away. Bruce drove it into the right field stands 383 feet away.
"I've been there before too," said third baseman Todd Frazier, who had a 0-for-31 hitless streak this season but who leads the team with 96 hits after picking up two on Sunday. "The more frustrated you get the worse it's going to be and he kept his head up and stayed up. I'm glad. The first thing I was thinking was his home runs against lefties and what a good time it would be to hit one out. A couple of guys told me I called it. I don't remember. I blacked out, so it was nice."
Manager Bryan Price has appreciated Bruce's all-around approach, too.
"During this period of time that Jay has struggled at the plate, there are certain things that I've noticed that have stood out," said Price. "How hard he runs out of the box on a routine groundout or fly ball and how his defense -- I don't want to say picked up. I think his defense is outstanding and it shows up every day but he's been in a situation to make plays and he's made them for us. That's what you have to do because of the up and down of a regular season. You've got to find ways to help when you're not swinging the bat."
Bruce did that his first time up against Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo. He hit a ground ball up the middle that went for a force out at second base but because Bruce beat the relay throw to first base Frazier was able to score on the play and give the Reds a 1-0 lead. Bruce eventually scored the second run of the inning on a Devin Mesoraco single.
A little bit of hustle turns what could have been no runs into two.
"Those are the things that you want to have on display every day with every player," said Price. "That type of effort. That type of palpable feeling that everyone is all-in, completely committed to winning and doing everything they can to win. I think he's putting it on display every day even though he doesn't have the results offensively to support his contributions. He's done it with his defense, hustle and effort and preparation, things we talk about all of the time."