The comparisons flowed even from his new teammates, who recognized the clear parallels from a year ago. That’s when the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes and took off like a rocket for the World Series.
“If you ask me, he’s a Cespedes guy,” second baseman Neil Walker said of the newest Met, Jay Bruce. “He’s a guy whether you want to hit him third or fourth or fifth, he’s going to be in that lineup against lefties and righties. He’s going to put up good at-bats day in and day out. He’s an RBI machine.”
Yet, manager Terry Collins emphasized an important message when meeting with Bruce, the big bat the Mets hope will help revitalize a lackluster lineup: “You’re not the savior.”
Before his first game with the Mets, a 7-1 Subway Series victory over the Yankees in which he batted third and went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, Bruce made it clear that he would not be burdened by expectations.
“New York can be as big and fast as you want it to be,” said Bruce, who had been drafted and developed by the Reds. “I plan on finding my niche and just being myself. I’m not going to try and change my lifestyle or change the way I go about things at all.”
The only exception, he said, was leaving his car in Cincinnati. He would embrace New York, meaning finding other modes of transportation. And he would welcome being back in a pennant race, after a few years of a grueling rebuilding project with the Reds.
“There’s an instant kind of recharge of the battery getting into a pennant race and playing baseball that matters,”said Bruce, who began the day hitting .265 with 25 homers and a league-best 80 RBIs. “When I was with Cincinnati, we played a lot of baseball that mattered for a long time. The past couple of years have been tough. I’m really looking forward to getting back in and hopefully catching the Nationals.”
The Mets nearly traded for Bruce last season. After finally getting him just before Monday’s nonwaiver trade deadline, GM Sandy Alderson acknowledged that he is not a perfect fit.
Bruce, 29, is a lefthanded hitting corner outfielder on a team so loaded with them that manager Terry Collins now faces a juggling act. Bruce is far from a wizard with the glove in rightfield — a fact reflected by mostly unflattering defensive metrics — yet the manager has approached him about playing centerfield. It’s a duty that might also be shared by Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto — also lefthanded hitting corner outfielders.
“We’ve got to mix and match I think,” Collins said.
Bruce, a three-time All-Star, emerged as one of the best hitters in the NL this season though it has come after two seasons in which he was well-below average offensively.
“I feel like myself again,” said Bruce, who dealt with a knee injury in 2014 that he believes might have impacted him last year as well.
Bruce arrived with a .360 average with runners in scoring position — making him an instant outlier on a Mets team that began the day hitting a league-worst .205 in such situations. However, Bruce showed some self-awareness when he chalked up that number to “selection bias,” or the belief that it may be more a product of randomness than skill.
Indeed, Bruce’s career numbers with runners in scoring position are nowhere near as impressive as they have been this season.
Either way, the Mets brought in Bruce hoping that he might be a catalyst, even if it meant parting with Dilson Herrera, widely regarded as the second baseman of the future.
“When it happened, I was very, very excited,” Bruce said. “There was a lot of emotions. It was a group of guys I grew up with over there in Cincinnati, guys I had a lot of respect for both on and off the field. But I’m in a new place and I get to know these guys. It sounds like a good group of guys. I look forward to being a part of this.”