Reds, Bruce getting hot after slow start
CINCINNATI -- Hot streaks are part of Jay Bruce's baseball culture and the Cincinnati Reds expect them to arrive -- like Easter, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Both the Reds and Bruce just wish his streaks would surface more often and stick around longer than a take-a-bow cameo appearance.
For the fourth time in his just-blossoming major-league career, the 25-year-old Bruce was National League Player of the Week last week. Over a six-game stretch he hit .476 with four homers and 10 RBI, including home runs in four straight games.
Earlier this season, Bruce went 0 for 19, but they don't give weekly awards for frustration.
That's been the way for Bruce -- gluttony or starvation, a pile of hits or a stack of strikeouts. And he knows it and that's what he'd like to change -- enhance the positive and obliterate the negative.
"I'd like to extend that one week for as long as I can," he said. "This isn't the problem. This has happened before, where I've been Player of the Week. The problem is that after that I sometimes stink for a little bit. I want to minimize that, make the most of this."
Asked if he is in the proverbial 'zone' right now, Bruce hesitated, then smiled and said, "Sure. Why not?" Does he believe that? Well, maybe. He's been here before when everything he swings at lands in the grass for a hit or in the seats for a home run. And he has been through spells where every time he swings the ball lands in the catcher's mitt.
"I'm just trying to focus on my daily routine, the work I've been doing," he said. "Honestly, I'm not thinking about any of that 'zone' kind of thing."
Bruce came to camp 15 pounds lighter than his playing weight from last season and took a lot humorous heat from teammate Joey Votto.
"What do you think about a guy who hits 32 home runs last season and decides he needs to lose weight?" said Votto with a broad smile. Then early in spring when Bruce was hitting a lot of fly balls just in front of the wall, Votto shouted, "See, look at that. He loses weight and now all he has is warning track power."
But after his ingot-hot week, Bruce had seven home runs, tied for second with Milwaukee's Ryan Braun for league leadership, four behind LA's Matt Kemp.
Well, how about the fact he could now do a commercial for Jenny Craig or appear on TV's Biggest Loser?
"I don't feel like a new person, or anything like that as far as when I'm on the field," he said. "I feel a little better about myself, maybe internally, but nothing performance-wise.
"I changed a lot during the off-season and during this season so far," he said. "It has helped me."
After a 4-8 start, the Reds finished April 11-11, in second place behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
The team's rise has coincided with Bruce's bat sounding off.
"We're going in the right direction and we're going to be just fine," he said. "You can't make a true judgment after one month. We're in a fine position. Our pitching is doing well and our hitting is coming around. That's all we can ask for. We just have to keep our eyes on the prize."
Manager Dusty Baker has learned that so far living with Bruce is like a ride on the famous 'Beast' roller coaster ride in Kings Island amusement park. There will be exhilarating highs and breath-taking lows, but you are along for the ride.
"Remember two years ago and even early last year, some fans wanted Bruce shipped back to the minors," said Baker. "They forget that this kid is just 25 years old. Most baseball people will tell you that hitters are at their best between 32 and 35."
Baker knows that all Bruce needs to learn for now is consistency and consistency means laying off pitches outside the strike zone.
"We've seen him hot before and we're sure glad he got Player of the Week," said Baker. "He needs to just pretend that this is still Saturday or Sunday of last week.
"Sometimes things change because you play a different team the next week," Baker added. "We get reports on who is hot and who is not and a lot of times those guys who are hot continue to be hot, but sometimes those guys who are hot cool off the next series.
"It depends on how you are pitching them," he said. "You tend to pitch them a little more carefully and you tend to pitch them a little tougher," said Baker.
OK, so Bruce has the Player of the Week thing mastered. Now he is shooting for Player of the Month and as Baker says, "One of these years? MVP."