Reds’ Bruce has huge goals for 2013 season

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Simply stated, Jay Bruce has a lofty goal: “I want to be the best hitter in the game.”
Easily said, but a mountain to climb with a whole bunch of people on the mountain.
“Yes, my goal is definitely to be the best hitter in the game and I can do that,” he said with pointed emphasis. “And I believe I can do that. I’m not even close to that with my average (career .255), but I have the ability. I have to put it together and continue to work at it. It is something that is going to come and I’m getting better over the years.”
Why does Bruce put such high expectations upon himself?
“If you don’t want to be the best in the game you shouldn’t be playing, in my opinion,” he said.
Bruce took a giant first step last season when he won the National League Silver Slugger Award for right fielders, emblematic of being the best hitter at your position as voted by managers and coaches.
“I just want to be better,” he said. “Last year was, well, I guess it is hard to be disappointed because I won the Silver Slugger, but there is still a lot of work for me to do. I’m still looking for consistency.”
That has been the 25-year-old Bruce’s bugaboo throughout his career. There will be a periods of almost a month when he is Ty Cobb (career .366) and then he relapses into periods when he is Ty Cline (career .238).
In one facet, Bruce has excelled. He is the first player in Major League history to hit at least 20 home runs as a rookie and then increase that total in each of his next four seasons (21, 22, 25, 32, 34).
“There is a lot more inside me I have to draw out and, of course, the ultimate goal is to win a championship,” he said. “That’s what really bothered me in the offseason is the way it all ended in the playoffs last year (losing the last three games to San Francisco after winning the first two).
‘We have all the pieces in place here to do some pretty special things and wipe out the memory of last postseason,” he added.
Manager Dusty Baker is a big Bruce fan and doesn’t laugh at Bruce’s statement that he wants to be baseball’s Pete Rose or Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn as far as batting averages.
Asked if there is any way to help him, manager Baker said, “First you have to help yourself because there isn’t anybody up there swinging but him. He has a chance. He is still trying to figure some things out or not to figure things out. That’s the dilemma as a young player — when do you be natural and when do you be smart? Sometimes you try to figure things out that don’t need to be figured.
“It is not easy being a young player and I can see the frustration on his face and I feel his frustration and pain,” Baker added. “What gets him in trouble is he fouls off too many pitches. If he didn’t foul them off he wouldn’t get into so many strikeout situations. He has to learn to center the ball more.”
When Bruce isn’t hitting, he is striking out — 155 times last year and 158 times in 2011.
Bruce has a new partner on defense to his right, center fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo played right field for the Cleveland Indians, but when the Reds traded Drew Stubbs to get him they plopped Choo into center field.
Over the winter, Bruce called Baker and offered to move to center field, a position he played when he signed and a position he played for one year when he and Ken Griffey Jr. switched. Griffey moved to right to protect his feeble knee.
But the Reds are keeping Choo in center and Bruce in right.
“Choo is going to be a huge asset,” said Bruce. “Offensively, obviously, and he is a tremendous outfielder, even though people are questioning if he can play center field. He is good enough to be where he needs to be by the end of spring training and the learning curve will be negated.
“He is going to do all he can to be the best outfielder he can because that’s what he does with his entire game in general,” Bruce added. “I don’t worry about him at all.”
About his call to Baker to offer to switch to center, Bruce said, “It wasn’t one of those deals where I said, ‘I want to play center,’ it was that if he is not comfortable out there I’d be willing to do it.”
Bruce said nobody on the team doubts Choo’s ability to handle center field, “And he is going to be a huge addition to our team and I’m excited about it. He gets on base, but he also does damage with doubles and homers, he gets on base and steals bases and he does it all, a complete player.”
So Bruce will permit Choo to patrol to his right while Bruce works on climbing that mountain of baseball hitters.
“I’m not young, but I’m still young in my career and there is a lot to be accomplished. And I’m just getting started,” he said.