CINCINNATI — When Zack Cozart walked into the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse Tuesday afternoon he was mesmerized by what he saw. He expected to see Jay Bruce’s locker empty, cleaned out. Instead, not only was the locker full of uniforms and equipment, the stuff belonged to Cozart.
“Don’t put that on me, not my idea,” he quickly said.
So whose idea was it? It was a last request made by Jay Bruce after he was trading Monday to the New York Mets and his message to clubhouse equipment manager Rick Stowe was, “I have one request and that is that Cozy gets my locker.” And it is an iconic corner, a set of two lockers near the clubhouse entrance from the field first occupied by Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Bruce and now Zack Cozart.
COZART WAS NOT ONLY stunned too find his gear in Bruce’s empty locker, he is in shock and awe that his stuff was still in Cincinnati, that he remains a member of the Reds. He fully expected to be traded, probably to Seattle.
“It was kinda weird yesterday,” he said. “I thought I was gone. I saw the reports like everybody else. I sat in front of the TV watching the clock, waiting for my phone to ring from 10 o’clock on. My phone was blowing up because a Seattle beat writer said the Mariners were close to acquiring me. I told my wife, ‘Hey, start packing up.’ It was a long six hours from 10 to 4 (the deadline). I was just waiting. And 4 o’clock passed and nothing happened. I wish Bruce was still here, but I’m still a Redleg and that’s a good thing. Both Bruce and Cozart wanted to stay, but only half of that wish came true.
“It is a weird day, to be over he in Jay’s locker and for Jay not to be here,” Cozart said. “Not having him on the team is going to be weird. He has been out there nearly every game I’ve ever been out there. It is part of the business but the business sucks. It’s tough.”
COZART UNDERSTANDS WHAT is going on, but it hurts right now, “Because we’re getting healthy, we’re getting our pitching back. We’ve won six of the last seven series we’ve played. We’ve been playing better baseball,” he said. “Obviously, trading Bruce makes it tough to fill that void. Early in the year was tough, but we’ve turned a corner and even when we lose we’re playing a better brand of baseball the last month. We’ve been going in the right direction, but now we’re taking a little step back because Bruce carried us in a lot of those games.”
Losing Bruce cuts deep with Cozart even more than as a teammate and a star player.
“He was my best friend in baseball,” he said. “He was a great teammate and even though he was younger than me I went to him for advice. He wrote me a long message yesterday about how professional I am as a player and how he appreciated getting to see me play every day, so that was pretty cool. He will be missed around here because all the guys respect him and I was at the top of that list. If you watched Jay, he always went about it the right way and is out there every day, even if he has a nagging injury. He is like Scott Rolen was or Derek Jeter was. You watch those guys and just do what they do.”
EVER SINCE HE joined the Reds, center field Billy Hamilton played right next to right fielder Bruce and Hamilton was the beneficiary of some sage advice and helpful hints.
“It is tough to see guys like Jay go because you want to play with them forever,” said Hamilton. “It was losing more than a teammate, it was losing a brother. Before it happened it was sad around the clubhouse because we knew one of the best guys on the team was going to leave. Nobody wanted to see it happen.
“We became real close in the outfield and it was great working with him,” Hamilton added. “From the first day I came to the big leagues he told me, ‘I’m taking you up under my wings. I’m going to show you how to do this big-league stuff.’ We got attached to each other and we knew on the field what each other would do. We had a talk Saturday before he knew he would be traded and he said, ‘I’ll still be there for you. Just because I might be with another team, well, I’ll just be a phone call away.’ It is a brotherhood type of thing. It was tough for me to come in today and see somebody else in his locker.”
DRESSING NEXT TO BRUCE was catcher Tucker Barnhart, who snapped a photo of Cozart’s gear in Bruce’s locker and sent it to Bruce to show that his request was granted.
“You hear the term, ‘A pro’s pro,’ and that’s exactly what Jay was,” said Barnhart. “He was a guy to whom I could ask any question to, on or off the field. He’d have a straight, honest answer. He gave me a a lot of good information as a younger guy on how to go about my business. It was the things he didn’t say that was most impressive. He just went about his business and produced every day. When you think of a guy who you’d like to pattern yourself around, as a person and a player, he is the first guy I would like at.
“I am happy for him that he has the chance to move on to where he has a chance to win,” Barnhart said. “I wish him nothing but the best.”
BRUCE’S DEPARTURE, of course, left a gaping hole in right field and in the clean-up spot. And slowly the Reds are filling the holes with players acquired in all their recent trades.
They called up Scott Schebler Tuesday from Class AAA Louisville after he was named International League Player of the Month for July. Schebler, part of the Todd Frazier trade, was placed in left field Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals and left fielder Adam Duvall was moved to right field.
Manager Bryan Price said he plans to stick to that configuration for the time being. Schebler and Duvall began the season platooning in left field, but Duvall shined while Schebler struggled. Duvall won the job and Schebler was sent to Triple-A.
In addition, Jose Peraza was optioned back to Louisville so he could play infield every day instead of languishing on the bench with limited playing time. The Reds also called up infielder Tony Renda as a bench player/pinch-hitter. He was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal. Renda is a second baseman by trade, as is Peraza and Dilson Herrerra, acquired from the Mets in the Bruce trade. Peraza most likely will switch to shortstop (the eventual heir apparent to Cozart) and Herrera will play second base (the eventual heir apparent to Brandon Phillips).