Expect the expected with Bruce
CINCINNATI -- For Jay Bruce, it is as annual and as reliable as the Capistrano swallows, the Hinckley buzzards and Punxsutawney Phil.
Expect the expected.
Even though fans don’t understand it, can’t fathom it, they want Bruce tarred, feathered and quick-mailed out of town because it happens every year.
Bruce begins the season as if his baseball bat and a baseball never met, that the only reason he carries a bat to home plate is in case he needs something to lean on between pitches.
It doesn’t last long. It can’t even be called a slump. It arrives quickly, in the flash of a batting eye. He does a 180. Hits begin to split grass blades all over the outfield and balls begin to leave dents in chairs beyond the outfield walls.
Is that the case in 2011? Looks that way.
The Cincinnati Reds multi-talented 23-year-old right-fielder, a No. 1 draft pick in 2005, dragged an ugly .224 batting average into Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And his only homer came Friday night. In 49 at-bats he struck out 16 times, mostly on pitches he couldn’t reach with an extension ladder.
On Sunday it all came flowing. Four hits. A game-tying home run in the seventh. But the Reds were unable to move forward from the time Bruce tied it, losing to the Pirates, 7-6.
But Bruce is back — if he ever really went anywhere. His average is up to .278 — 54 points in one day and not even the stock market rises and falls that quickly.
Fans always know he is there. Whether he is slump-ridden or peppering hits hither and yon, his appearance at home plate is always greeted by what sounds like a prolonged, "Booooooooo." Actually, they are shouting, "Bruuuuuuuuuce."
After Sunday’s four-hit, one-homer game, Bruce shook his head in wonderment and said, "Every year, same thing. Same doggone thing. They wonder what’s wrong with me. Wonder if I’ll ever hit again. I start a little slow, but this year it is only 50 at-bats into the season. I mean, relax. I guess I understand how the fans think, but it is 50 at-bats and literally one game changes it all."
And that’s definitely what happened Sunday.
"You worry about things that help the team win games — getting on base, scoring runs, moving runners over, playing defense, driving in runs."
His four hits certainly were welcomed by manager Dusty Baker.
"It was great to see Jay get those hits because, man, if Jay gets rolling the way the rest of the team is rolling, we got action," said Baker.
If Bruce had any problems in his first 50 at-bats, it was his approach to seeing pitches.
"Early this season he was taking good pitches early in the count," said Baker. "If you take the first pitch, the opposition figures that out quickly, knows it, too. If they know you won’t swing at the first pitch, they are going to come right at you and put you in an immediate hole."
Bruce struck out his first time Sunday. When he came to bat in the fourth, the Reds were down, 4-1, with two outs and nobody on. He beat an infield single and scored when Ramon Hernandez singled and Paul Janish singled.
Bruce pulled a two-out run-scoring single in the fifth when the Reds scored three-times and Bruce hit gave his team a short-lived 5-4 lead.
When he came to bat in the seventh, the Reds were down, 6-5, but he tied it with his second home run of the season.
But the Pirates scored the run they need to win in the eighth for a 7-6 lead.
Bruce was involved in a rare play in the ninth that was decisive. With one out, he beat out an infield single, his fourth hit.
When pitcher Steve Pearce picked up Bruce’s slow roller and winged a throw over the first baseman’s head, Bruce took a short step toward second. But second baseman Neil Walker backed up the play and fielded the ball.
Bruce stopped his abrupt move toward second, but since he made a move toward second he became fair game to be tagged out. As he walked back toward first base, Walker tagged him out.
That made it two outs with nobody on and the Reds proceeded to fill the bases before Drew Stubbs ended it by flying out to center.
"You have to give their second baseman (Walker) credit for hustling back there and being in position on the overthrow," said Baker. "That was the epitome of backing up. That stopped Jay from going to second base and maybe third base."
Said Bruce, "I went from hero to semi-goat on that ninth-inning play. That was a tough play. The first thing you think when you see the ball go over somebody’s head is to turn and run to second base.
"I was caught in the middle when Walker chased down the ball because I didn’t want to just go back to first," said Bruce. "Instincts took over, I was just going to go to second base. Walker made a great play getting to the ball. I didn’t think he’d get there and when he did I was stuck in No-Man’s Land. I was in the old damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation."
For the first few games of the season, it was the fans damning him for him doing naught, but it looks as if Bruce is ready to spring into action that will carry him through the summer.