PHOENIX — As Jay Bruce rested his hip, back and foot while out of the lineup for a third straight day Saturday, he also rested his mind.
This season has been a slog for Bruce, as it has been a slog for the Mets. And although it wasn’t manager Mickey Callaway’s initial intention when sitting Bruce — nor does Bruce enjoy not playing — the rightfielder has treated this layoff as a chance for a mental reset of sorts.
Bruce and his .216/.297/.327 slash line were available off the bench Saturday night after two full days off, with no batting practice or other on-field activity. Callaway expects him back in the lineup Sunday.
“I’m taking these couple of days to get my body [feeling good], try to get out in front of little nagging stuff that I’ve had and get ready with a bit of a fresh feel both physically and mentally,” Bruce said. “I’m going to take the time to clear my mind as well.
“I can’t stand taking days off. I like to play. But when I do get them, I try to take advantage of them in all of the ways that I can.”
Part of that included a half-hour conversation with Callaway in the manager’s office Thursday afternoon. Bruce has known Callaway a bit longer than most of the Mets have (Callaway was Cleveland’s pitching coach when the Mets traded Bruce to the Indians last August), and Bruce said he considers himself fortunate to have a supporter in Callaway. “There’s an amount of trust there,” Bruce said.
What did they talk about?
“Little bit of everything,” Bruce said. “Personally, the team. Just the state of how everything is. It was a good, honest talk. He cares about guys in here, he cares about me, we care about him. It’s his first time [managing], too. You have to be able to keep that in mind. While that’s not any excuse for anything that happens, but there are better days ahead. And we both believe that.”
Bruce is an important part of those theoretical better days, and he feels some personal responsibility for the way things have gone. He came back to the Mets on a three-year, $39-million contract in January to be another homer-hitting bat in the middle of the lineup but has endured the worst year of his career. He has three homers, none since May 7.
What sets recent months apart from struggles of seasons past, Bruce said, is that he feels good. In other years, he felt off when failing. This year, aside from a few nagging physical issues, including a sore hip/lower back this past week, the only thing missing is the bottom-line production, which is of course what matters most.
Bruce pointed to his peripheral numbers as evidence as that. He has his highest walk rate since 2011 and lowest strikeout rate since 2009. He’s hitting the ball as hard as he usually does. And yet it hasn’t added up to runs.
“The results have been very fleeting and elusive so far, but the process and the way I feel haven’t really reflected that,” Bruce said. “That’s not an excuse, it’s just the reality.
“I feel so close. I hit balls at people. Fly out, just miss the ball. Stuff you really can’t control.”
Amid that slump, if it still can be called that, Bruce and Callaway also talked about leadership.
“He’s confident I’m going to end up being myself,” Bruce said. “He trusts that I can keep an even keel about myself and do my best to keep the guys going in the right direction as well, make sure everyone is pulling from the same end of the rope.”