Bruce#8217;s success having big

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 2, 2008

impact on Reds’ decisions

By JIM WALKER/Tribune Sports Editor

Jay Bruce has enjoyed a sensational first week in the big leagues. The rookie center fielder can run, field, and hit. Boy, can he hit.

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But please remember he is a rookie. His teammate and manager do.

His teammates, namely Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, took advantage of Bruce’s inexperience and eagerness to have some fun at his expense.

Before his debut on Tuesday, Griffey and Dunn persuaded Bruce to lead the team out onto the field. Bruce took off running but quickly realized he was running alone. Looking back into the dugout he saw his new teammates still there.

And they were laughing heartily.

After going 3-for-3 in his debut — the first Reds player to do so since Willie Greene back on Sept. 1, 1992 — Bruce was doing a post-game interview and fell victim to the traditional shaving cream pie in the face courtesy of catcher David Ross.

Bruce continued his hot-hitting throughout the homestand. He was treated to standing ovations from the fans and chants of “BRUUUUUCE!”

But manager Dusty Baker was quick to point out that Bruce was still a rookie and not to get to caught up in the moment.

“He’s not the savior,” Baker said. “I just want him to let him play and be himself. Don’t put any labels on him or comparisons. Just let him play.”

Bruce, just 21, battled Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper for the centerfield job in spring training. Despite outcries from fans, the Reds elected to send Bruce back to the minor leagues and try not to rush his progress.

But Bruce began tearing up the International League. He was among the leaders in every offensive category. It was time to take off the kid gloves and turn him loose in the outfield next to Griffey, his boyhood idol.

“One of my dreams, and I guess it’s a goal realized now, was to play with Ken Griffey Jr.,” Bruce said. “I’m getting that chance, and I’m going to make the best of it.”

Bruce may do more than play next to Griffey. He may end up with his job. The 38-year-old Griffey is a free agent at the end of the season and Bruce is projected as the Reds right fielder of the future.

“For right now, I’ll play wherever they put me,” said Bruce. “I think I can play center well, but I know eventually down the road I’ll probably end up in right.”

First base is not an option for the slowing Griffey with a young Joey Votto entrenched. That only leaves left field and that’s where the younger, power-hitting Dunn plays with his newly signed multi-million dollar contract.

Freel could become the utility fill-in at four or five positions to give everyone a rest, or he could end up at third base if the Reds are unhappy with the lack of defense Edwin Encarnacion has shown.

Griffey could opt to take less money and return to the Reds, but regardless of the options and moves the Reds decide to make, it’s a good bet the only move Jay Bruce might make is shifting from center field to right.

Wonderboy is here to stay.