WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Jay Bruce is a veteran of nine big-league seasons. And no different from most players of his experience, spring training is a time for the prerequisite drudgery of preparing for a season.
But on Tuesday, the Mets outfielder arrived at the ballpark with a different feeling.
“Today there was some anticipation, as much anticipation as I’ve had for a spring training game in a long time,” said Bruce, who started at first base in the Mets’ 2-1 victory over the Astros.
The Mets want another player to be ready to play first base in a pinch. And Bruce, 29, has been tapped for the duty, perhaps with an eye on potentially easing the Mets’ crowded outfield situation.
So, the career corner outfielder has carved out time to take grounders at first base. On Tuesday, he played the position in a game for the first time, handling his only chances to make a play.
“No one got hurt,” said Bruce, who has only a handful of games at first in his big-league career. “So, that’s a good start.”
In the second inning, third baseman Wilmer Flores fired across the diamond after fielding a Teoscar Hernandez grounder. But Bruce saved the throw, plucking it from the dirt with his first baseman’s mitt.
Two innings later, Bruce looked comfortable ranging to his right to field a Derek Fisher grounder. From there, Bruce hesitated before tossing to pitcher Jacob deGrom covering first base, ending the frame.
As the two walked off the field, deGrom offered a critique that manager Terry Collins echoed later. Rather than wait for deGrom to cover, Bruce should have executed the toss much quicker.
“I’m far from a finished product by any means, but it was good to get a few innings over there,” Bruce said.
Still, Bruce believes he can play first base if necessary, which has been the whole point of the exercise. The plan calls for his education to continue with another game at the position.
Said Collins: “I thought he handled himself well.”