Bruce overcomes April boos
CINCINNATI -- In April, Jay Bruce could do little right in the eyes of fickle-faced Cincinnati Reds baseball fans, some of whom thought his feeble act would play better in Louisville than in Cincinnati.
When Bruce goes stale, they boo. When Bruce turns into a blue flame special, the cheers is, "Bruuuuuuuuuuuce."
After a boo-filled April, Bruce could do little wrong and those fans whom broke their ankles falling off his bandwagon are healed and scrambling back aboard.
Bruce opened a three-game series Monday in Great American Ball Park with three hits and three RBI, including his NL-leading 16th home run during his team's 7-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Before the game, the Reds' No. 1 draft pick in 2005 began a three-game series sat in front of his locker and insisted, "I'm not a home run hitter. I'm just not."
So the Cincinnati Reds right fielder has accidentally bumped into 16 home runs so far this year with the best offensive month by a Reds player in years, with one day left May.
Bruce has 12 home runs and 32 RBI in May, more than matching what Adam Dunn did (11 homers, 31 RBI) in July 2005 for the best offensive calendar month
With one game left, he is two shy of the team's record for home runs in a month — 14 by Greg Vaughn in September 1999.
In April, the 24-year-old left-handed Texan swung at anything in the same area code and same zip code combined and continuously got himself out, mostly with strikeouts.
Something clicked in May. Suddenly he ceased swinging at unhittable pitches — balls out of the strike zone and nasty strikes — and everything he made contact with seemed to land out of reach of the outfielders, a whole bunch of them into the seats.
And since last August, Bruce leads the National League in home runs with 31, while still insisting, "Man, I'm not a home run hitter. I do have power, yes, but I don't consider myself a home run hitter. I want to be a hitter, a guy who hits for average."
After hovering at the .220 level for most of April, Bruce has pushed his average to .290 while continuing to patrol right field with aplomb, displaying a locked and loaded arm that guns down any baserunning miscreants.
And what clicked in May that wasn't there in April?
"It's the same thing I've talked about for three years," he said. "Pitch selection. It's pitch selection pitch selection pitch selection. It is an understanding of what pitchers are trying to do to me and understanding what I can and can't handle."
So why can't he stay dialed in, why do these lapses of wild-flailing at bad pitches creep in to his at-bats?
"I get too anxious," he said. "I try to do too much. I try to go get the game instead of let it come to me. I can stay with it if I have a solid approach every day and stick with what I know works. I have to understand that it does work and don't try to rush. Let everything happen as it happens."
Sounds simple, right. But when it isn't working Bruce looks as helpless at the plate as a motherless bird peeping in the next. When it is working, Bruce looks as if a pitcher couldn't slip a live grenade past him.
"You take what they give you and understand what they are going to try to give you," he said. "You don't help them out by swinging at what they want you to swing at. You swing at what you know you can handle."
Asked about leading the league in home runs, he shrugged and said, "It isn't something I think about too much. I have plenty of power, plenty of power, but I want to be known as a hitter first. That's my goal. It's cool and everything, but it isn't what I'm playing the game to do, hit home runs. As soon as you think about hitting home runs, you don't hit them.
"I'm playing the game to win and lately we haven't been doing that," he added."
After sweeping three from the St. Louis Cardinals and two more from the Chicago Cubs to grab first place in the NL Central in the middle of the month, the Reds lost 10 of their next 12. But no fingers were pointed at Bruce because in that span he hit .422 (27-64) with eight home runs and 22 RBI — while his team lost 6-1/2 games in the standings, falling five games behind St. Louis.
With his 3 for 4 Monday and a Reds win coupled with a St. Louis loss, the Reds are four games behind the first-place Cardinals and 1-1/2 behind the second-place Brewers.
"We're still right there, man," he said. "We're not where we want to be but we're not even close to being out of striking distance and we'll be just fine."