CINCINNATI — It was 3 o’clock Monday afternoon and down on the Great American Ball Park infield Jay Bruce was absorbing a crash course on the finer points of first base.
What was going on? Well, when the lineup board in the press box was checked, Bruce was listed as the Cincinnati Reds first baseman.
Emergency situations call for a scramble and this one is definitely a scramble. Bruce at one time did play first base, "When I was 16, but not professionally," he said.
Bruce has fooled around at first base now and then during infield practice. When Joey Votto went on the disabled list earlier this season Bruce told manager Bryan Price, "If you need me, I’ll play first base."
So on Monday, with Votto aching and Brayan Pena in Florida with a newborn child, Price asked Bruce early this afternoon, "When can you be ready to play first base?" Said Bruce, "Right now. Tonight."
During the early afternoon drills, coaches threw balls in the dirt at Bruce and several skipped past him, but he is confident he can play the position.
"Until I was 16 I played first base exclusively," said Bruce. "I feel like I’ve played it before, but this is the major leagues, the best baseball in the world. So it is going to be a little quicker, but I’m banking on the fact that I’m a baseball player and a good athlete. I have confidence in my ability to play anywhere on the field where they need me to play."
Said manager Bryan Price, "Without Joey we don’t have any true first baseman. Jay has been taking ground balls there because it helps him with his outfield play, too. Jay has some history there, although not a lot and not in pro ball, though he looks athletic enough to do it," Price continued.
Price said by using right fielder Bruce at first base it allows him to utilize the plethora of outfielders on the team and enables him to play both Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick in Monday’s lineup. And he didn’t use Todd Frazier at first base because his replacement at third base, Ramon Santiago, was at shortstop to give Zack Cozart a day of rest.
"A lot of this is just trying to figure out what our options are on this team," said Price. "What if we don’t have Joey Votto long-term? That could be the case. We have to look in-house at what our options are. I don’t think you’ll see Jay at first base often but it does allow us to utilize our bench a bit more."
Price was asked if the team might explore acquiring a first baseman on the trade market and he said, "We’d like to do it internally. We’re going to kick the tires on what we have in stock."
One tire they won’t kick is Class Triple-A Louisville first baseman Neftali Soto, who had a fabulous spring and was with the team early this season but was unable to hit.
"We are not considering Soto as this point," said Price. "We have some pieces of our team that I’d like to see play more. I’ve been rotating in left field with Skip Schumaker, Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey. So if there is a way to cover first base and get those guys more active playing time, that’s the best possible answer."
Price was asked if he didn’t think he was weakening his defense in right field by moving Bruce to first base and he said, "Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. It is like when we move Frazier from third to first. In my opinion, Frazier is one of the best defensive third basemen in the league. But we’re trying to plug a hole and we don’t have an obvious solution of somebody who has been a credible, regular first baseman."
Price said Bruce’s willingness to play first and Frazier’s willingness to play first and Pena’s willingness to play first, "Sends a great message. We have players willing to do whatever it takes to help our club get to where we want to go. For a guy who is a Gold Glove right fielder to be willing to play first base just shows his character and what he is willing to do to win games."
Bruce sounded as if he was trying to talk himself into success and said, "This is something I have to learn on the fly and we have great infielders who will make my job easier.
"I told Bryan a couple of weeks ago that I was confident that I could do it," Bruce added. "The strength of our teams is all the outfielders we have who can really play. The main priority is winning baseball games one of our best players (Votto) can’t go out there and play to his ability. I told Bryan I was confident I could do it.
"I expect to play first base, not just be at first base," he said. "I switched from first base to outfield when I was young because I grew into my body. I could run, I had a good arm, so it was something that organically happened. Everybody felt I was athletic enough to play the outfield."
Bruce has his own first baseman’s mitt and said, "I’ve had it to mess around with for a couple of years. I have about 15 outfielder’s gloves. I take the first baseman’s mitt out sometimes just to mess with it."
Votto spent the day at Beacon Medical undergoing tests and an MRI and the team awaited the results Monday afternoon.
"It has become apparent in the quality of his play that this is not just hindering, it is not just an inconvenience," said Price. "This is something to the point where it is very difficult for him to compete. He is really having discomfort and fatigue, the things that go with this (quadriceps) injury.
"We had hoped he could play regularly and be able to maintain the strength and decrease the soreness, but at this point that hasn’t worked," said Price.
Nobody in the organization is willing to say that the disabled list is in the next step — Price said they were awaiting results of the MRI and the tests — but it seems for the good of the club and for Votto’s future and well-being that he disabled list is dead ahead.