CINCINNATI -- Daniel Murphy received a standing ovation at Citi Field in May, when he played in New York for the first time after departing as a free agent. Neil Walker received similar treatment in Pittsburgh a few weeks later, when he arrived at PNC Park with the Mets.
Now it is Jay Bruce’s turn to be saluted, as the Mets open a three-game series in Cincinnati with a 1:10 p.m. ET game on Labor Day.
Bruce was acquired from the Reds on Aug. 1 for second baseman Dilson Herrera and 19-year-old left-hander Max Wotell.
The Reds plan to honor Bruce with a pregame ceremony. His wife and son will join him on the field.
“It’s definitely quick,” Bruce said about the return coming five weeks after he was dealt. “It’s something I look forward to. I know a lot of people there and am very comfortable in that city and definitely know it. It’s going to be really odd going to the visitors’ dugout. ... I’m sure there will be some emotion to it, for sure. I spent 12 years with the organization and my first nine seasons as a major leaguer there.”
Bruce’s longtime Reds teammate Homer Bailey strongly criticized the trade with the Mets, telling ESPN at the time: “I think I see the plan. They talked about us losing 100 games at the beginning of the year, and s---, we're damn sure trying, aren't we?"
At 57-78, the Reds are headed for their third straight losing season.
Reminded this weekend about Bailey’s comments, Bruce said: “That has nothing to do with me. It’s a tough situation over there because there are a lot of guys over there that are veterans that want to win. Organizationally, I feel like they think they needed to rebuild and kind of go in that direction. They think they know what they’re doing. That’s not really my area of expertise.”
Bruce is hitting a modest .210 (22-for-105) with four homers and 10 RBIs since joining the Mets. He raised his average 12 points on Sunday with a two-hit game that included a two-run homer. Originally acquired to hit behind Yoenis Cespedes, Bruce was placed in the No. 6 hole on Sunday because of his struggles. Yet perhaps he is awakening. He is 8-for-his-last-19.
Asked if returning to Cincinnati could further jump-start his bat -- he has 135 homers at Great American Ball Park, more than anyone else in the stadium’s 14-year history -- Bruce suggested otherwise.
“I don’t put too much stock into that,” Bruce insisted. “I actually hit better on the road this year than I did at home. It’s definitely comfortable there for me, the stadium and the city itself. But I don’t think too much about stuff like that.”
Bruce added that he doesn’t feel as badly at the plate since joining the Mets as the numbers suggest.
“Honestly, I haven’t felt too different at the plate,” he said. “I’m a big believer in ending the at-bat when the at-bat should be ended. Whether you’re out or safe, you get a pitch to hit in the major leagues, you’ve got to hit it. I haven’t been doing that as efficiently lately as I was early in the season. But I still feel in control of my at-bats, and the last few games the results have been better. It’s a baseball season. There are ups and downs. I try not to get too emotionally tied to the ups or the downs.”
Bruce still owns a home in Cincinnati, where he will stay this week. He is preparing to sell it, though. The Mets hold a $13 million team option on Bruce for next season that they are sure to exercise.
“Trying to move out of a place when you’re not actually there to move out of it is kind of tough,” Bruce said.
Bruce insisted he welcomed the trade to New York.
“I knew I was going to be traded,” he said. “I was excited to get traded to a team that was in a playoff hunt -- to play baseball that matters. I’ve had the opportunity to play in the playoffs multiple times. Not a lot of guys get that opportunity playing baseball. To go from a situation that I was in to this one is definitely something I look forward to.”