Bruce thrilled to learn he’ll hit cleanup

If the news were flashed on that scoreboard it would read: “Jay Bruce is going to bat fourth for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014.”

On Wednesday morning, during his daily meeting with writers, with the air conditioning humming, manager Bryan Price dropped the news that Bruce would bat cleanup against right-handed pitchers. And since the majority of pitchers are right-handed,Bruce will bat fourth most of the time.

Apparently Price hadn’t mentioned it to Bruce because when Bruce was told during an interview his reaction was, “All right! That’s great. All right!”

Bruce, 26, has for the most part batted fifth the past few years but Price believes it is time for the powerful left-handed right fielder to step into an even more important and demanding role.

“Jay Bruce is a prototype No. 4 hitter,” said Price. “He is continuing to get better. Putting him in a position to drive in runs and get him several more at-bats over the course of the season gives a lot more run-scoring opportunities, especially hitting right behind Joey Votto.

“It’s not the worst thing,” Price said with a smile. “There are a lot worse lineups out there then having Votto and Bruce hitting three and four.”

Former manager Dusty Baker did not like to place left-handed hitters back-to-back and usually separated Votto and Bruce.

“With a right-handed starter I don’t think we have to concern ourselves about back-to-back left-handed hitters because we hope to jump out to a lead early so we don’t have to worry about that lefty-lefty stuff out of the bullpen,” said Price.

Bruce has driven in 97 or more runs in his last three years, topping at 109 last year. And he has hit 30 or more home runs three straight years.

“I’ll love batting fourth,” said Bruce. “The bottom line is to do whatever you can to help your team win games and that is definitely something I feel I can do from that spot.”

To Bruce it is another step up the ladder to becoming all that he can be, something he talks about constantly. He is never satisfied and often says, “I know I can do a lot better and I won’t be happy until I’m the best player in the game. That might not happen, but I won’t quit trying.”

When told Price said he was the prototype No. 4 hitter and that he was ready for it, Bruce smiled and said, “I agree with him.”

Jumping from fifth to fourth means little as far as how to approach an at-bat, and Bruce knows it. Change is not in the air.

“I’ll stick with the approach that best suits me,” he said. “No matter where you hit, I’m a middle-of-the-lineup hitter and you take advantage of the opportunities presented to you and make the best of it.

“I just want to continue to improve,” he said. “In baseball it is hard to control the results but you can control the position you put yourself in when you are presented opportunities. I focus on continuing to get better every year and to be successful.”

Price said when a left-handed pitcher starts he’ll put Ryan Ludwick fourth and Bruce back in the fifth spot. The rest of the batting order will be familiar after rookie Billy Hamilton leads off. It will be Brandon Phillips, Votto, Bruce, Ludwick, Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Zack Cozart and the pitcher.

“I wouldn’tread too much into the lineups and batting orders during spring games because we will shuffle some things around,” said Price. “We’ll mix and match, but nothing drastic.”

As for the season’s batting order, Price knows there is not much to think about, even though Hamilton is untried.

“Right now we’ll start with Billy leading off that first spring training game, but there is a lot of time before we make a season-long commitment. But I have an understanding of what I want the lineup to look like.

“The dynamics of our team are in place and the focus is extracting more out of what we have here,” he said. “We have an outstanding club and we have a much higher ceiling than what we’ve seen here offensively, especially when we get down to Frazier, Mesoraco and Cozart. There is a big ceiling of improvement for what those guys can provide for us offensively.”

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