WEST PALM BEACH — Jay Bruce had butterflies. For the first time in years, the 29-year-old veteran outfielder was anxious about playing in a spring training game. On Tuesday, Bruce started at first base, the first time he’d played the position since playing three regular-season games there for Cincinnati in 2014.
“Today there was as much anticipation as I have had for a spring training game in a long time,” Bruce said after playing four innings at first.
“No one got hurt, so that’s a good start. It was fine,” Bruce added with a laugh. “I was happy to pick that ball, the ball I got thrown to me, that was good. I need to get the ball to Jake (deGrom) a little quicker. Overall I felt comfortable. It’s definitely faster and, you know, it’s different, but It was fun.”
Tuesday the Mets used their 2-1 win over the Astros to make sure Bruce got comfortable at first base “just in case” they have an emergency situation this season. It’s all part of the Mets’ push to become more versatile, flexible and able to respond to injury situations during the season. The Mets had their 2016 hopes ravaged by injuries and already this spring had their plans changed by injuries this spring.
David Wright is running and taking ground balls, but unlikely to be ready to play third base to start the season because of a shoulder issue that prevents him from throwing. The loss of Brandon Nimmo, who suffered a grade-one hamstring pull in the World Baseball Classic, was another blow Sunday to the Mets’ plans this spring. Nimmo was the favorite to be the Mets’ left-handed bat off the bench, allowing them to send Michael Conforto to Triple-A so he could play every day. Now the Mets will likely have to choose between keeping switch-hitting utility man Ty Kelly, who is playing with Israel at the WBC, and putting Conforto on the bench.
Those injuries just emphasized to the Mets that they need versatility and insurance built into their roster.
So after trying unsuccessfully to trade him all winter, Bruce could now be a big sense of security for them. First baseman Lucas Duda missed 116 games last season with a stress fracture in his back and 16 games with a back issue in 2015.
“If something happens to Lucas, we have a situation, we have to have somebody ready. I just think Jay is the guy who can do it,” Terry Collins said. “I think he’s athletic enough to be able to do it. We’re going to keep having him take some ground balls there.”
The Mets manager said that Bruce would likely play another game at first this spring.
Bruce looked a little anxious early on, but he was fine playing first.
“It’s good. There are a lot of small things I need to continue to work on, just like anything else,” Bruce said. “There’s small things I still work on in the outfield all the time, so it’s far from a finished product by any means, it’s good to get a few innings in there.”
In the second inning, Wilmer Flores’ throw to first on Teoscar Hernandez’s ground ball was short. Bruce had to dig the ball out to make the final out of the inning. In the fourth, Bruce fielded Derek Fisher’s ground ball to his right smoothly, but slowed deGrom as he charged to first base by hesitating on the underhanded throw. They still made the out, however.
“He made a nice play there,” Collins said of Bruce digging the low-throw out for the second-inning out. “The other play he’s got to get the ball to Jake a little quicker. That’s all stuff you can learn, but I thought he handled himself well.”
Afterwards, he was confident enough he could fill in for an emergency situation, but not ready to take over.
“I believe it’s just in an emergency situation, but I believe I could do that,” Bruce said. “I believe I could do that, but I don’t even want to begin to take credit away from the actual first baseman on this team. It’s a very difficult position. You handle the ball the third most besides the pitcher and catcher and they can definitely make the team better for sure.”
And versatility and insurance can also make the team better, the Mets believe.
Published at Tue, 14 Mar 2017 21:28:47 +0000