Senior Writer

Reds' Bruce quietly showing signs of improvement, greatness


PHILADELPHIA -- Adrian Gonzalez has 29 RBI this month. He's having a great May, as you no doubt have heard.

Jay Bruce has 27 RBI this month, and when I saw him in the Reds clubhouse this week, my first question was about Roy Halladay.

And he didn't even look at me funny.

He didn't remind me that the story of this week isn't the guy who no-hit the Reds last October. It's the only guy who reached base against Halladay on that historic night.

It's the guy who has taken over the National League lead in home runs, the guy who is doing his best to try to keep the Reds from sinking too far behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

It's the guy who debuted as "Boy Wonder" three years ago this month, the first guy I ever wrote about for If anybody should have recognized what Jay Bruce is doing, shouldn't it have been me?

"I don't need to be known," Bruce said Thursday, when I finally got around to asking him about himself.

Cincinnati's Jay Bruce has quietly driven in 27 runs in the month of May. (AP)  
Cincinnati's Jay Bruce has quietly driven in 27 runs in the month of May. (AP)  
Then, for the second time in less than 24 hours, he delivered a game-tying hit against a Phillies ace. He did it against Halladay on Wednesday, and he did it with his 14th home run of the year (and 10th of the month) against Cliff Lee on Thursday.

True to form, he wasn't the big story either day. Bruce also hit a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning Wednesday, but he was an afterthought in a game that went 19 innings. Thursday, Lee's two-run double will be the big story, along with a key hit from Wilson Valdez, Wednesday night's surprise winning pitcher.

Bruce won't be known ... unless he keeps this up.

And he might.

Bruce has had big months before (8 home runs, 17 RBI in August 2010, 10 home runs, 23 RBI in September 2008), but this one has a different feel.

Part of it is, as manager Dusty Baker mentioned, this is early in the season. Part of it is, as Baker also mentioned, that Bruce just turned 24 years old and might be at the right age to start hitting it big.

And part of it is what teammate Scott Rolen sees.

"Last year, it just felt like he was hot," Rolen said. "Now it doesn't feel like he's smoking hot, just that he's consistent."

The Reds have been anything but consistent. They swept what seemed like a huge series with the Cardinals to take over first place, then quickly went on a six-game losing streak.

One reason Bruce hasn't gotten the attention Gonzalez has this month: Who wants to read about a guy who goes 11-for-18 with four home runs, during a span in which his team loses every game?

Or, to extend it through Thursday's 10-4 loss, who wants to read about a guy who goes 15-for-32 with five home runs and 12 RBI, during a span where his team loses eight out of nine?

But maybe this isn't just one great month. Maybe what we're seeing is a 24-year-old kid developing into the major star that some predicted he would be.

Maybe instead of just being smoking hot, he's just gotten a lot better.

"Yes, I feel like I'm a better hitter," Bruce said. "I would like to think I can become significantly better."

He knows that while months like this may prove he's getting better, months like April (when he hit .237) prove he still has a ways to go.

"That's the big thing -- consistency," he said. "I'm trying to keep it on an even keel."

And maybe that's why he was so happy to talk about Halladay and the Phillies, even when I should have been asking about the guy leading the league in home runs.

"He was as good as it gets that night [last October]," Bruce said. "It's as good as he's been, maybe as good as anyone has been."

The Reds, as much as any team know how good Halladay can be. The Reds, as much as any team, know how good the Phillies are.

Including last year's playoff sweep, the Reds have lost 10 of their last 11 games against the Phils.

"You want to win in the playoffs, you have to win here," Baker told reporters this week, after the lone win.

"These guys are as tough as it gets," Bruce said to me the next day. "It doesn't look like they've gotten any worse."

No, it doesn't, but it does look like maybe Jay Bruce is getting better.

And that, I finally realized, is the story of the week.


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