Outfielder switches gloves, volunteers to fill in for injured Votto
CINCINNATI -- Three years ago at Spring Training, Reds right fielder Jay Bruce thought it would be fun to add a first baseman's glove to his collection. He asked his glove manufacturer for one when he saw it on display.
"You can only have so many outfielder's gloves," Bruce said on Monday. "It's, 'Hey, can I grab this first baseman's mitt so I can mess around with it?'"
Bruce has taken ground balls at first base periodically since, but more in earnest lately since regular first baseman Joey Votto has dealt with a left quadriceps strain. On Monday against the Cubs, Bruce started and played at first base professionally for the first time.
"It's become a reality but it's going to help me a little bit at least," Bruce said of his tinkering at the unfamiliar position. "I was confident that I could do it, especially with the strength of our team being the outfielders that we have. The main priority here is winning baseball games. One of our best players can't go out there every day and play to his ability right now."
Bruce had a fielding error that let a run score in the fifth inning, but he hit a two-run home run in the seventh, helping seal a 9-3 Reds win over the Cubs.
Bruce approached Reds manager Bryan Price a couple of weeks ago and volunteered to play first base as Votto started showing signs of regressing since returning from the disabled list.
"He asked me today when I could be ready to play," Bruce said. "I said, 'Tonight.' Here we go."
Votto could be a candidate for the DL again as his quad has gotten worse in recent games. He has appeared to be in pain while swinging and running and was given three starts off in the last 10 games, including Sunday.
On Monday, Votto underwent tests with medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek. He returned in time to be on the field with the team during batting practice but there was no new word on his status before the game.
"It's getting more and more uncomfortable to play with to the point where it's very difficult for him to be able to compete," Price said. "We're just verifying that the situation hasn't gotten worse."
Putting Bruce at first base seemed like a peculiar move since he is a Gold Glove-caliber talent in right field with a strong arm. Just on Saturday vs. the Brewers, he had two assists to throw out runners trying to score for the third out. Price defended the move while realizing he gave up some defense.
"Absolutely, there is no doubt about it," Price said. "It's like when we move [Todd] Frazier from third to first. We're trying to plug a hole that, in my opinion, doesn't have an obvious solution with somebody that's been a credible, regular first baseman where it's been their primary and best position as an option."
Skip Schumaker, who started in right field for Bruce, was not viewed as a candidate for first base.
"He does a great job in the three outfield spots and spells Brandon [Phillips] if we need a second baseman," Price said. "He's never played third. He's never played first."
Neither had Bruce, professionally at least. He was a first baseman as a kid until he moved to the outfield when he was 16. He took grounders and practiced scooping the ball throughout Monday afternoon and looked awkward at times.
This isn't the first time the Reds have experimented while trying to fill a void without Votto. Backup catcher Brayan Pena had 10 games and 9 2/3 innings of experience there before he got a shot this season and has played competently there for 17 games, including 13 starts. Outfielder Roger Bernadina, who had never played there in a regular season game at any level, started at first base on May 30 at Arizona. Pena is currently on paternity leave while Bernadina was released June 27.
On Monday, Price rested shortstop Zack Cozart before he is expected to play both games of a doubleheader on Tuesday. That had backup infielder Ramon Santiago starting at shortstop.
"Which means we need Frazier at third, which means we need a first baseman, and today it will be Jay," Price said. "If we don't have Joey long term or a period of time he could miss, we have to look in-house at what our options are. I don't think you'll see Jay at first base often. It does allow us to utilize our bench players a little bit more. We have guys here that are playing part time but we'd like to play more."
Price preferred keeping the search for a first baseman in house rather than going outside of the organization. If Votto does have to go on the DL, the club could call up either Donald Lutz or Neftali Soto from Triple-A Louisville. Pena could also return from his leave as soon as Tuesday.
"We're going to kick the tires here on what we have in stock as opposed to going out there and looking around," Price said. "I don't know if there's a different philosophy outside of this office. We're going to see how it goes."
Price praised Bruce for going outside his comfort zone.
"In some ways, it really sends a great message and I really believe in this," Price said. "We have players willing to do whatever it takes to help our club get to where we want to go. For a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder to be willing to go out and play first base shows his character and what he's willing to do to help us win games."