Jay Bruce hit .234 with two home runs in his first 77 at-bats through April 25. At the time I asked, “Will the Real Jay Bruce Please Stand Up?” Six weeks later the Reds’ right fielder is hitting .292 with an NL-leading 17 home runs and 46 RBI.
I guess he answered my question. Or has he?
Since my call-out Bruce is hitting .326 with 15 home runs and 38 RBI, a remarkable stretch that resulted in him being named NL Player of the Month for May. The run is even more remarkable given how clueless he looked at the plate in April, flailing at balls out of the strike zone and yielding weak results when he did make contact (according to FanGraphs Baseball, he hit only three line drives in all of April.) He wasn’t just struggling; he was looking acutely anemic at the plate, like he didn’t belong in the major leagues. Some even suggested he be sent down to AAA.
Thus that begs the question: Has the real Jay Bruce stood up? Is the Bruce of the last six weeks here to stay? No one expects him to maintain the level of his recent hot streak — at this rate he’ll end the year with 50 home runs and 140 RBI — but are we finally seeing the guy everyone expected when he tore through the minor leagues and burst onto the MLB scene with a spectacular first week as a Red in 2008: a perennial All-Star capable of hitting .300 with 30-plus home runs, 100-plus RBI and Gold Glove defense?
The Reds better hope so. With Joey Votto being walked at a crazy, Barry Bonds-esque rate, and Scott Rolen battling injuries and ineffectiveness, the Reds will need Bruce, who recently moved to the cleanup spot behind Votto, to be more consistent than his track record suggests if they’re to repeat as NL Central champs.