Bruce breakthrough? Cincy slugger big against Giants

Jun 3, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jay Bruce (32) doubles during the first inning for his 500th career rbi against the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ball Park. 

Frank Victores/Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — Athletes don’t like to linger too much on the highs or lows of a season but they are acutely aware of them, especially when it’s one of those low times.

Jay Bruce has always been a streaky hitter. The streak hasn’t been so good this season. He and the Reds are hopeful that things may have turned a corner Tuesday night.

Bruce drove in two runs — Nos. 500 and 501 of his career — with a double and a single in four at-bats as the Reds beat San Francisco 8-3 in the opener of three-game series at Great American Ball Park. It was the team’s fourth win in a row, its longest winning streak of the season. Bruce also stole a base and made a couple of put-outs in the outfield.

It was a game of nothing but positives for Bruce, who has been looking for anything of the sort since returning to the lineup 11 days ago following arthroscopic knee surgery.

"As much as that stuff does feel good, honestly I was just happy to contribute to the team," said Bruce. "Since I’ve been back I haven’t been doing much contributing, I don’t feel like. This is a long season of ups and downs but these guys are battling. It’s been a grind for us with the injuries. We haven’t been playing well and for me to be able to contribute to the team and a team win is what I’m most excited about."

Bruce had just four hits in 30 at-bats in his first eight games back after his stint on the 15-day disabled list. He pulled a double into right field off of San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum in the first inning to score Todd Frazier as part of a four-run inning that erased a 1-0 lead by the Giants. His single in the four-run fifth inning scored Brandon Phillips as the Reds knocked Lincecum out of the game.

The last time Bruce had two hits in a game was April 23 at Pittsburgh. Tuesday night was the first time since April 25 at Atlanta that Bruce had driven in a run. Even with him missing 14 games on the DL it had been 16 games played for Bruce since he last had a RBI. He had three multi-RBI games in the first eight games of the season but none since April 8 until Tuesday night.

You can get into all of the sabermetrical debates you want about the validity of the RBI but there is no debate that the Reds need Bruce, among others, to start producing offensively if they are going to get back into things in the National League. He is just the fifth player in Reds franchise history to knock in 500 runs before the age of 28, joining Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Adam Dunn.

"I think Jay is going to do what he does," said catcher Devin Mesoraco, who hit his ninth home run of the season with Bruce on second in the first inning. "It’s just a matter of time before he gets comfortable and is able to go out there and have a couple of good games in a row. I don’t think anybody in here is worried about Jay. He is as consistent as anyone on our team these past couple of years. They may not all come at once but at some point he’s going to get hot, hit a bunch of homers and drive in a bunch of guys."

The Giants still own the best record (37-21) in baseball through the first two months of the season. The Reds are still two games under .500 at 27-29 and have a lot of work ahead of them. They have yet to spend a single day above .500 and they are in fourth place in the NL Central as Milwaukee continues to set a strong pace. St. Louis and Pittsburgh are still ahead of the Reds in the division standings.

ENTER TO WIN

Only five other players drove in more runs than the 208 Jay Bruce did over the last two seasons. His RBI total has increased every season he has been in the major leagues since he was first called up in 2008, including 109 last season. Bruce’s offensive numbers are down so far this season for a variety of reasons. The knee surgery set him and the Reds back.

If Tuesday night was a turning of the corner, it comes at a good time.

"It was really nice just to see him doing what he does, which is get some rhythm to his swing back and start to feel that he’s a little more connected at the plate," said manager Bryan Price. "He always brings good energy and great defense. It was just really good to see him get a couple of hits tonight because I know it was a little bit of relief for him."

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