Jay Bruce had made 899 appearances in the big leagues through Sunday and had never played first base.
The Reds took a chance and started their right fielder at first base Monday against the Cubs because Joey Votto is still nursing a sore knee and Brayan Pena is out on paternity leave.
Todd Frazier could have played first, but the Reds have a surplus of outfielders. This was their way of getting their best eight position players on the field. Ryan Ludwick started in left field with Billy Hamilton in center and Skip Schumaker in right.
“I’m banking on the fact that I’m a baseball player, that I’m a good athlete,” Bruce said, “and that I have confidence in my ability to play anywhere on the field if they need me to.”
Bruce played first base exclusively until he was 16, but had never done so professionally. He told manager Bryan Price a couple weeks ago if the Reds needed him to play first, he could. He said he takes grounders at first base every once in a while to break up the monotony of batting practice. When Price asked Bruce on Monday when he could be ready, Bruce said, “Tonight.”
Bruce stepped up the training Monday, taking grounders at 3 p.m. and again during batting practice with Votto and Brandon Phillips at his side.
Bruce doesn’t plan to chat with many base runners, something he has no chance to do in right field. He needs to concentrate and can’t afford to talk to anyone and everyone like Votto.
“He’s comfortable out there,” Bruce said. “I’m going to do my best to be a baseball player. That’s what I’m here to do. My job is to help this team win games. Offensively, there’s no difference. I’m ready for it. It’s one of those things that may not happen very often in my career. Hopefully less than more because hopefully Joey is healthy.”
Top pick signs: The Reds signed their No. 1 pick from the June draft, pitcher Nick Howard, from the University of Virginia, on Monday. Virginia lost 3-2 to Vanderbilt in the deciding game at the College World Series. Howard gave up a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning of the final game.
Howard finished the season with a 2-2 record, 20 saves and a 1.91 ERA in 31 appearances. The Reds haven’t announced where he’ll pitch.
“I keep hearing Dayton’s the place to be,” Howard said. “I don’t know what the stat is, but I know they’ve sold out a numerous amount of games.”
Doubleheader today: The Reds will make up a postponed game from April 28 at 1:10 today and then play the regularly scheduled game at 7:10. Fans with tickets to the April 28 game can present them at the gates for the 1:10 game without needing to exchange tickets.
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