Bruce on a mission to step it up
By Hal McCoy | Sunday, February 21, 2010, 11:19 AM
GOODYEAR, Ariz. - It was 7:45 on a dreary Arizona morning, the sun shielded by a cloud cover that kept the temperature below 60.
Inside a large roofed building illuminated by florescent lights, in one of six indoor batting cages, Jay Bruce was pounding baseballs delivered underhanded by batting instructor Brook Jacoby.
The coffee in the media work room was still brewing, but Bruce already had worked up a sweat in his quest to elevate his game to his personal satisfaction.
His .223 batting average last year is not a point of pride and while Bruce knows right field belongs to him, he is intent upon making all negative questions about him disappear like Egg McMuffins every morning in the clubhouse dining room.
Two days before the All-Star break last season, Bruce broke his right wrist trying to make a diving catch in New York and missed two months. He was hitting .208 at the time and splashing like a drowning man who has fallen out of a rowboat to keep his head above .200.
MANAGER DUSTY BAKER believes those two months were the most educational of Bruce’s professional life.
In the 18 games after Bruce returned, he hit .375 in 32 at-bats with four homers and 13 RBIs, raising his average 15 points.
“I’m looking for the Jay Bruce I saw after the injury,” said Baker. “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. That shows mental strength and the physical shape he was in because it is hard to lose that much time and then come back the way he did. He had very little rehab and the pitchers weren’t going to get any sharper.
“It’s not like he missed April and came back in May,” Baker added. “He learned a lot in that absence and was it was beneficial because he was on a downward funnel. It’s hell getting out of that funnel. All funnels I know go down.
“He came back in great shape and he is still learning,” Baker said.
AND WHAT most people forget (Bruce lets you know) is that he is close to being the youngest player on the 40-man roster and he has 1 1/2 years in the majors. Bruce is 22 and turns 23 just before Opening Day.
“I’m one day older than Yonder Alonzo,” said Bruce. He is younger than Todd Frazier (24), Chris Heisey (25), Homer Bailey (23), Johnny Cueto (24), Chris Valaika (24) Wladimir Balentien (25) and Juan Franciso (23).
“Let’s not forget that,” said Baker.
Bruce, though, doesn’t use youth as an excuse.
“Age is relative, relative to what you’ve been through,” said Bruce. “I’m in the major leagues and it doesn’t matter if I’m 22, 32 or 42. I expect a lot out of myself and so do they. If they didn’t think I could do the job I wouldn’t be here, no matter how young I am. My job is to help the team win and I didn’t do it as well as I wanted last year.”
Bruce, though, does agree with Baker’s assessment that the two months off were served not only for healing time but for educational purposes.
“I finally had to deal with some adversity and adversity is good for everyone,” said Bruce. “People deal with it in different ways at different times. I just decided to move forward and take it as a positive and let it be something I learn from.”
Bruce has hit 43 home runs in 209 major-league games and driven in 110 runs with a career .240 average.
Numbers are not what is on his mind.
“I just want to be as productive as I can, all around,” he said. “Score as many runs as I can, drive in as many as I can and prevent as many as I can. Defense is a big deal and I take a lot of pride in it. Being an all-around baseball player is the way it should be. I want to be that and I have a long way to go, but I’m trying to make it happen.”
Before Bruce broke his wrist he was tied with Washington’s Elijah Dukes for mosjt outfield assists with 10.
EDUCATED GUESS: Outfielder Jonny Gomes will sign a minor-league deal with the Reds Sunday and report to camp - short drive since he lives in the Phoenix-area,
“We’ll have a decision or something on him tomorrow (Sunday),” said general manager Walt Jocketty.
“I think he is taking one last lap around the majors (to see if any other teams are interested),” said assistant GM Bob Miller.
Jocketty, though, calls Wladimir Balentien a wild card or maybe a trump card. “I still think he is a sleeper,” said Jocketty. “He finished really strong in the winter league.”
A SIGN HANGING in Baker’s office: “The most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen - not necessarily in that order.”
Baker couldn’t remember where he picked it up, but said, “That’s the truth, too. Like Yogi Berra always said, ‘If you don’t have a bullpen, you don’t have nothin’.’”