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Jay Bruce positioning himself for role at first base

The Mets' Jay Bruce, right, is congratulated by

The Mets' Jay Bruce, right, is congratulated by teammate Adrian Gonzalez after hitting a solo home run during the 10th inning against the Cardinals on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in St. Louis. Credit: AP / Jeff Roberson

SAN DIEGO — With the Mets planning to occasionally start Jay Bruce at first base in the near future, manager Mickey Callaway suggested Sunday that the move eventually could be a permanent one for the rightfielder.

That is not the Mets’ intention for this season; Bruce will be working into a timeshare with Adrian Gonzalez and Wilmer Flores. But the idea of Bruce at first came up when he and the team negotiated his return to the Mets as a free agent in the offseason.

“He’s aware at some point in his career that’s probably where he’s going to end up,” Callaway said. “That’s the natural progression I think for a guy like him. I don’t know that that’s going to be consistently this year, but I think that he’s aware.”

Bruce has said for weeks that he is open to playing first if that’s what the Mets want. He acknowledged this past week that his perception — and the game’s perception — of first basemen has changed in recent years as teams began to gain a greater understanding of the defensive value of the position.

Bruce knows that the more versatile he is on the field, the longer he’ll be a viable major-leaguer.

“Back in the day, it was like, oh, if you play first base, that means you can’t play the outfield anymore,” Bruce said. “First base is a very valuable position. It is a hard position. If that’s something that I can do when they need me or whenever they need it, then I think it’s only going to help. That doesn’t mean I can’t play the outfield. It’s something that I think, yeah, it can add a feather to your hat a little bit, maybe make you available longer.”

That aspect of it is for another day (or year). In the immediate future, using Bruce at first stems from a desire to get outfielder Brandon Nimmo — who has hit well in limited time this year — in the lineup more often. Callaway said he would like to get Nimmo “one, maybe two extra games a week.”

A lack of production from the existing platoon of Gonzalez (.612 OPS entering Sunday) against righties and Flores (.621) against lefties is a part of it, too.

Callaway said the Mets most likely will use Bruce at first when they face several righthanded starters in a row. That would mean a reduction in playing time for Gonzalez specifically.

“It’s for the benefit of everybody: Keep Adrian rested, make sure Nimmo gets in the game as much as he should be playing and keep Bruce in there as often as possible,” Callaway said. “It’s a fine balance, but everybody has bought in to everything.”

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