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Big League Stew

Jay Bruce’s reward for a mash-filled May: Hitting cleanup

Big League Stew

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So what do you get the slugger who posts an outstanding May line of .342/.402/.739 with 12 homers, six doubles and 33 RBIs?

How about the cleanup spot that he and Cincinnati Reds fans have had their eye on ever since he broke into the big leagues back in 2008?

That would be quite a well-deserved gift and one that Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker was willing to bestow on young Jay Bruce, who hit fourth for the first time all season in Tuesday night's 7-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Bruce went 1 for 4 with a RBI, and it might get some wondering if a fearsome 3-4 combo of NL MVP Joey Votto and Bruce will finally stick on Baker's lineup card.

But there's a reason that Bruce had only hit cleanup in eight games. The maturation process of the 24-year-old right fielder had something to do with it, sure, but the fact that he and Votto are both left-handed also plays a big role.

And no matter how well Bruce hit over the past month, it doesn't seem like Baker's famous stubbornness will give Bruce the exclusive job of protecting Votto in the lineup just yet.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:  {YSP:MORE}

"I didn't want to do it if they had a lefty or a number of lefties in the 'pen," Baker said. "I might hit Jay fourth against righties and (Scott) Rolen fourth against lefties. We're trying to take advantage of (Bruce's) hot bat and help Joey (Votto), too, maybe.

"Strategically, I don't like the other manager to be able to take care of both of them with one lefty. I'd rather have them burn two bodies. It makes it too easy."

But as John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out to Baker, the argument for splitting the two lefties up against a left-handed starter doesn't hold much water. Votto leads the National League with a .426 batting average against left-handers while Bruce ranks fourth with a .381 mark. Both are far ahead of the two righties — Scott Rolen (.286) and Brandon Phillips (.306) — that have split the majority of time in the No. 4 hole.

So, it'll be an interesting situation to track as the Reds go forward. Though not as interesting as watching Bruce develop into the power machine that many have expected him to be. No matter which spot he's hitting from, Bruce is definitely on track to better the impressive numbers that our own Alex Remington predicted for him during spring training.

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