Jay Bruce struck out five times in one game Thursday night. As if he and the Cincinnati Reds did not have enough headaches during the 2014 season. Pass the aspirin.
Somehow the Reds, who have underachieved all season, partially because of injuries, defeated the Chicago Cubs, 7-2, anyway, so the glare of the spotlight was deflected away from the hole in Bruce’s bat.
It has been that kind of season for the Reds right-fielder who in 2011 and 2012 was a member of the National League All-Star squad. He never threatened to attain that designation this year. In fact, if given the choice, it is probable that Bruce would sign up for a ride in a time machine and set it for April of 2015 to start all over.
Coming out of spring training Bruce did not hit well. A month into the season he was batting .218. Things were bound to improve, right? They got worse. Right around Cinco de Mayo, it was announced that Bruce had a torn meniscus in his left knee and needed surgery.
The injury did not demand the kind of operation that is spelled “season-ending.” It was projected that Bruce would be out for three or four weeks and he indeed rushed back, rejoining Cincinnati’s lineup before the end of May. Athletes hate being sidelined for any reason and they always think they can out-smart doom and gloom doctors. Was it right for Bruce to come back so quickly? Only he really knows the answer to that.
Getting even worse
There is no doubt, though, that Bruce in 2014 has not been the Bruce of the recent past. He is just 27, and should be in his prime, and his prime, in terms of home runs and runs batted in, at least, has been pretty solid. He has three times hit at least 30 homers in a season. Bruce has never been a high average man, but following the five-K debacle he was once again hitting .218, full circle from before he went under the knife.
Thursday was embarrassing for any player. But Bruce is no borderline major leaguer. Striking out five times in one game is as lousy as it gets, but as a bonus he came to the plate with the bases crowded more than once. In all, as he repetitively fanned, Bruce also left seven men on base. This was all part of a somewhat prolonged slump, too. After a stretch during which Bruce failed to get a hit in six out of nine games, manager Bryan Price benched him last Saturday night.
It was hoped that Bruce cooling his jets for an evening might be restful, useful, or that good karma would replace bad karma. The evidence that the cure did not take was the five strikeouts in a game.
Injuries have decimated a once-potent Cincinnati lineup. Bruce has 14 home runs and 55 RBIs, below average by his standards, but the consistent failure to get on base is really killing him. Bruce’s on-base percentage is .294 and he is closing in on 130 strikeouts with about 30 games to go.
Certainly the knee injury was troublesome and likely contributed to a lack of rhythm at the plate, but that disruption should be behind Bruce. The Jay Bruce of the present must regain the swing of the Jay Bruce of recent vintage. If Bruce doesn’t find a solution soon his career could be jeopardized. No team is going to play a .218-hitting outfielder as a regular for very long.
This should not be happening, but it is and Bruce must fix things.