By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — His manager calls Jay Bruce, “The consummate professional and he has always been the consummate professional.”
And what does Jay Bruce think about himself so far this season? “I feel like myself again.”
His ‘myself’ was a one-man demolition team Saturday afternoon during a 2-1 victory over the Oakland A’s, the second straight 2-1 victory for the Cincinnati Reds over the A’s.
Bruce furnished all the offense — a massive 439-foot two-run home run off a kid making his major league pitching debut, a blast in the the third inning that looked as if it might make an emergency landing at Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Then in the ninth inning, with the tying run on first base, Marcus Semien lined one hard into the right field corner. Bruce, though, ran it down and backhanded it in the right fielder corner before he ran into the side wall.
IT WAS A JAY BRUCE AFTERNOON, one of several he has had lately, which is of the good news-bad news variety. The good news is that he is helping the Reds win recent games. The bad news is that he is a hot commodity on the trade market and his value is extremely high for several teams looking for outfielders.
“It is something to see what he is doing,” said manager Bryan Price. “How about those two plays he made off the wall in yesterday’s game — holding a runner to a single and throwing Yonder Alonso out at second base?
“Then he makes that play today and hits a big homer off a kid that was throwing the ball really well,” Price added.
That would be 23-year-old Daniel Mengden, called up Saturday for his major league debut. He was 5-and-1 in the minors at Class AA Midland and Class AAA Nashville and had a 1.19 earned run average in 11 starts, giving up only nine earned run in 68 1/3 innings.
He wore a handlebar mustache and although he is from Texas his pitching style, both hands high over his head, has a Japanese flavor. He gave up two runs and six hits over his 5 2/3 innings.
HE WAS MASTERED, THOUGH by Bruce and his pitching opponent, Dan Straily, who gave up one run and five hits over seven innings, battling 92-degree heat and throwing 109 pitches in a high stress environment.
“A week ago the heat got to me,” said Straily, now 4-and-2. “I made some adjustments in terms of hydration and preparation, if you will. So I was unaffected today.”
And his win came against the team he pitched for in 2014 and he said, “That was fun. You prepare for them like any other team and you don’t look at the names on their backs. Now that it is over, well, yeah I pitched against a lot of good buddies over there. So it was fun. I was able to watch those guys hit when I was with them.”
PRICE, THOUGH, IS IMPRESSED and amazed at Bruce’s never-changing demeanor.
“He has had to deal with the adversity of his name in the papers (trade rumors) and he has handled it like a real professional,” said Price. “And I think he enjoys his team in Cincinnati and the time with his teammates and he doesn’t spend all his time pondering the what-ifs of his career. He is just enjoying the moment and enjoying playing better baseball.”
How about Bruce’s name starting to creep into trade conversations again?
“I don’t think that will be a surprise,” said Price. “He has been through that in the past and to be good at this game you have to be really optimistic, hoping that things you want to happen will happen.”
ASKED IF HE THOUGHT his home run might vacate the stadium for an Ohio River splashdown, Bruce smiled and said, “I hit it pretty good. That’s probably all I have, but it’s all I need.”
It was Bruce’s 14th home run and his 43 RBI lead the team. While it is proven that Bruce is a power hitter, you can’t convince him because he not only never thinks home run, he never hits them in batting practice.
“Hitting the ball out of the park is definitely not something I concern myself with,” he said. “I don’t hit home runs at all in BP (batting practice). Ever. I have no use for home runs in BP. Me hitting home runs is the last thing on my mind and probably would be the worst thing on my mind to have during the game.
“I am not a guy who needs to try to hit home runs,” Bruce added. “Never have been. My goal is to have a consistent approach, good direction and swing at the right pitches.”
And never, never think about trades.