Only Jay Bruce's .259 batting average keeps the Reds right fielder from serious NL MVP contention.
By HAL MCCOYFS Ohio
CINCINNATI — If only
Jay Bruce could call up the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche and order 70 points transferred to his batting average he probably would be the No. 1 candidate for National League MVP, as long as his Cincinnati Reds continue to shred the National League Central.
But, as MVPs go, a .259 batting average doesn’t put you near the front of the candidates — even if you are second in the league in home runs, even if you are third in the league in RBIs and even if you stepping up your game to cover the absence of Joey Votto, the 2010 MVP.
Bruce’s 30th home run came Monday against Philadelphia rookie Tyler Cloyd and his ninth-inning run-scoring single were the only runs the Reds would score this day in a 4-2 defeat. And it pushed Bruce to 89 RBIs.
And he travels in elite circles. He is one of only three players this year with at least 32 doubles, 30 homers and 89 RBIs, joining American Leaguers Albert Pujols (Angels) and Miguel Cabrera (Tigers).
In his last 21 games, when the Reds have needed him most, he is hitting .333 (27-81) with nine home runs and 22 RBIs.
The Reds were struggling early in a game against woebegotten last-place Houston last Friday when Bruce tagged a three-run home run to launch the Reds to a 9-3 victory.
The Reds were trialing those same Astros on Sunday, 3-0, in the eighth inning. Bruce was bruised earlier in the game when he struck out with no outs and the bases loaded.
This time he turned on relief pitcher Xavier Cedeno’s first pitch and dispatched it 415 feet, a three-run game-tyining home run, and the Reds went on to win, 5-3.
On Monday, his home run in the second inning gave the Reds a 1-0 lead, but they could mount nothing else against Cloyd and Bruce’s ninth-inning single off relief pitcher Phillipe Aumont closed the game to two runs.
Bruce, only 25 but in his fifth major-league season, is an accomplished right fielder with an I-dare-you-to-run left arm dangling from his shoulder.
And he knows that the missing link to his game is a high batting average.
"That’s been the story of my major-league career so far (.254, .223, .281, .256)," he says with a shake of his head. "The production side of things has come easier for me. I’ve never driven in 100 runs and that would be nice (he is only 11 short) if I’m able to reach it.
"I don’t get caught up on it because we’re winning and playing so well and that makes it a ton easier not hitting for average."
A ton easier? How about sleep?
"I lose plenty of sleep over my average, I’m not going to lie. Oh, my gosh," he said. "You have no idea. That’s something that bothers me more than anything. Fortunately, it’s a gift and a curse. The home runs come easier than my average. It is something I’m going to work on.
"I understand the premium of power but I’ve never wanted to be just a slugger. I feel I have the ability and potential to be a great hitter. There are plenty of people out there that do it. I’d like to be one of those. I’m young and in my fifth full season so there is plenty of time for improvement and I’m capable of doing it. I won’t ever give up on it," he said.
His manager, Dusty Baker, a guy who combined power and average during an outstanding career, talks to Bruce often about just that.
"When you hit home runs you are going to get RBIs," said Baker. "I’ve talked to him many times for him not to be satisfied, which he shouldn’t be. Nobody should be satisfied until their career is over. But he is working at it.
"We sat him down for two days about three weeks ago and he has been hot ever since," Baker added, referring to his last 21 games and the .333 average, something he’d like to see Bruce do over the course of an entire season.