I can't wait to see Bruce and Votto in Reds unis.

Bruce gets some major experience
19-year-old plays big-league tilts

By C. Trent Rosecrans
Post staff reporter

SARASOTA, Fla. -Try telling Martha Bruce that spring training games mean nothing.

The mother of Reds' prospect Jay Bruce watched her son get his first major league hit - albeit in an exhibition game - on Thursday and cried.

The 19-year old Bruce is one of the top prospects in the Reds organization and Baseball America rated him the No. 14 prospect in all of baseball. With split squad games Thursday afternoon and night, Bruce played in both. It just so happened that his parents, sister and girlfriend were in town for the occasion. They were scheduled to leave today.

Bruce collected his first hit Thursday afternoon at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., and then picked up his first start in a major league game in the nightcap at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

"It was a blast," said Bruce, after the Reds beat the Pirates 3-2 at night and lost 13-1 in the first game.

Although he was smiling ear-to-ear before the game, the Reds' 2005 first round pick (12th overall) wasn't quite as excited after the night game. In the seventh inning, he misplayed a fly ball and was charged with an error. He then went to the plate that inning and struck out.

"I could have been a lot better, not taking the defense into my offense, because I had a bad last at-bat," Bruce said. "But that's why I'm here, I've got to learn."

Reds manager Jerry Narron was excited to be able to give Bruce the opportunity to play in a big league exhibition game.

"We're talking about a young man that's probably going to be in A ball and AA tops at the end of the year, to get in a big league exhibition game is a big deal," Narron said. "I love it. Guys that can play a little bit, it's nice to see them in these games. He's going to be a pretty good player. I went and watched him play the (minor league) intrasquad game the other day and I watched him get a few good hits that day. He's a very good outfielder, I was shocked the way he bobbled that away from him. He's a very good outfielder."

Bruce went 1-for-2 in the first game and 0-for-3 in the second game. In his first two at-bats in the night game, Pirate outfielders made great plays to retire Bruce. Although he had the error in the night game, he did have five putouts and was able to show off his strong throwing arm on a couple of plays.

Bruce was scheduled to play in both games, but got the start in right field when Josh Hamilton was scratched from the lineup because of the shin splints that have been hampering him for the last couple of weeks.

Narron found Bruce in the bathroom while the left-hander was washing his hands and told him "you're starting in right."

Bruce had been told Tuesday that he was going to get to play in a major league game on Thursday, but Wednesday morning he got news that his appearance was off. Later in the afternoon it was on again.

"It's one of the top days we've had yet," said Bruce's father, Joe Bruce, who watched the game with his family from behind home plate. "He started tonight, that was so great. I called it his big league debut, for me it is. It's unbelievable."

Bruce batted .291 with 16 home runs for Class A Dayton last season and led the Midwest League in doubles (42) and extra base hits (63). He will likely start the season here in Sarasota with the Class A Sarasota Reds.

"I'm hoping for (Class AA) Chattanooga, but I'm not worried about that," Bruce said. "I hope to push the decision as much as I can with my actions on the field and let them take care of the rest."

He certainly didn't hurt himself Thursday. He got his hit in his second at-bat and had a hard out in his first. He was then robbed by Pirate Andrew McCutchen on a diving play in the second inning in the night game. In his second at-bat, it was left fielder Jason Bay who made a shoe-top grab to take away not only a base hit, but also an RBI.

"I'm here to get some work in and why not do it at the elite level?" said Bruce, who broke three bats in his first three at-bats against major league pitching. "I think the velocity is about the same, but the major league pitchers are much more controlled, have a better idea of how to pitch. They're more effective with their pitches. Their sinkers sink a little more."

After the first game, Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who will likely start the season in Class AAA Louisville, texted Bruce saying, "good job. It was nice playing with you today."

Votto was impressed with Bruce's maturity and his skills.

"It's weird. I'm walking on eggshells a little bit. Just so I don't do anything stupid," said Bruce, who will turn 20 early next month. "I'm playing in a major league game tonight, but that's about it. I don't feel like a major leaguer, there are a lot of things that need to be accomplished. These guys deserve my respect for earning that title."