CINCINNATI — Jay Bruce is gone, but far from forgotten by at least one new member of the Cincinnati Reds.
Rookie outfielder Jesse Winker remembers Bruce passionately and as a tribute he wears a pair of Bruce’s batting gloves.
Winker wore the gloves Sunday against the Washington Nationals in what he considers his major league starting debut. Winker has been in the Reds lineup as a designated hitter, but Sunday is the first time he started a game as a hitter and a fielder, “And I consider this my real major league starting debut,” he said.
THE WINKER-BRUCE CONNECTION goes back to spring training of 2013 when Winker was in camp as a minor league invitee, his first sniff of what comprises a major league environment.
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Even though it was projected that Winker would soon make the major leagues as an outfielder, and Bruce is an outfielder, Bruce took an immediate liking to the 20-year-old No. 1 draft pick (supplemental) in 2012.
Bruce became his mentor and a constant companion, quick with the advice and information and quick with the wallet to pay for meals.
And what clinched it for Winker was at mid-season of 2013 when he was playing for low Class A Dayton.
“I still remember to this day that I was in the Midwest League All-Star home run derby,” said Winker. “And Jay texted me good luck. At that moment in my life, I thought, ‘Damn, this is pretty cool.’”
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And it pumped up Winker so much that he won that home run derby.
BRUCE NOW PLAYS RIGHT FIELD for the New York Mets and has 24 home runs and 62 RBI.
“He has been a great guy for me to learn from, a great guy to ask questions,” said Winker. “It has been so cool to learn from a guy like that.”
Winker, as do most players who pass through Dayton, speak fondly of the Gem City and he said, “It was a really cool place for me to have my first full season (.281, 16 homers, 76 RBI in 112 games). You get spoiled there with all the fans and the atmosphere.”
His next step up was high Class A Bakersfield, but to most players who advanced from Dayton to Bakersfield, it was a step down.
There were few fans, there was a bad ball park in a seedy part of town. In fact, the park was aligned incorrectly and the sun shone directly over the center field batter’s eye into the hitter’s eyes.
“I remember one time the game was scheduled to start at 7:15, but the sun was so bright that the hitters couldn’t see. So they pushed it back to 7:30. Then they pushed it back to 7:45. Then it was 8 o’clock. I think we got started at about 8:15 when the sun ducked behind the batter’s eye,” said Winker.
Some wonder why the long delay in getting Winker to the majors. It comes down to playing time. Because he is a corner outfielder, spots occupied by Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall, the Reds would rather have him playing every day in Triple-A, getting precious at bats. And he understands.
“My mind-set in Triple-A is just to get better every day,” he said. “I don’t pay attention to what’s going on up here, although I obviously know how well Schebler and Duvall are playing. And when I’m here I see their at bats and how well they are hitting the ball. It is obvious they are both having great years and I’m happy for them.”
Winker says he gets what is going on, knows that it is a process and, “I’m not one to complain and I know the Reds have a plan for me.”
IT IS NO STATE SECRET that the cash-strapped Reds like to sign a bunch of marginal players released by other teams or trade for marginal players, especially at the end of spring training when other teams cleanse their rosters. Then the Reds throw it all against the wall to see if anything sticks.
Tha’ts the way it happened this year at the end of spring training when the Milwaukee Brewers released Scooter Gennett and the Reds snapped him up.
MANAGER BRYAN PRICE SAID the Gennett deal is No. 1 on his hit parade of players the Reds rescued like dogs from SICSA.
“Signing Scooter has been impactful,” said Price. “During my tenure it has to be No. 1. Pitcher Alfredo Simon was really good for us in a middle relief and do-everything role in the bullpen And in 2014 he wins 15 games as a starter and makes the All-Star team.
“But Scooter? You look at his body of work and you figure you are getting a solid big league player,” said Price. “But you look at him now and he is off the charts for what he has done for us (.310, 16 homers, 51 RBI in only 212 at bats).”
And then there was Dan Straily, whom the Reds signed just hours before Opening Day last year after he was released by the San Diego Padres.
Straily started 31 games and won 14 for the Reds with a 3.76 earned run average. Then he was traded last winter to the Miami Marlins and he is 7-4 with a 3.32 earned run average.
But as Price said, “He had a great year for us and then we were able to net Luis Castillo and Austin Brice for him and I believe both will pitch here for a long time.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It is hard to be away from the big league environment for close to three years and come in and think you are going to pick up where you left off. You can’t prepare yourself to face major league hitters by facing kids in Arizona in extended spring or in Single-A. It is a different ball game here and it took him a little while to settle in. He has had three elbow surgeries and you wonder what his stuff will be like. But against Arizona, his fourth start, it looks like he is all the way back. His robust and powerful fastball/slider combination is back.” — Manager Bryan Price on Homer Bailey.