By Ed Coleman
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida (WFAN) — The Mets have wasted little time at least beginning to acclimate Jay Bruce to first base.
With Lucas Duda sidelined after receiving a cortisone shot in each hip due to lingering soreness and with no clear recovery timeline, Bruce took grounders and fielded short hops at first on the back fields of Port St. Lucie prior to Sunday’s exhibition game against the Tigers.
Bruce made it clear from the start that first base was not exactly familiar territory.
“During the season, I like to mess around a little bit over there, but nothing serious. I played three games (two starts) there in 2014 because it was kind of a dire need for the (the Reds). But I haven’t played it seriously since probably my freshman year in high school, so there’s plenty of work to do, that’s for sure,” Bruce said.
And it looks like Bruce will get that work as long as Duda’s status remains tenuous. Manager Terry Collins was asked about Neil Walker seeing some time there as well, and shot that idea down.
“Right now, the answer to that is probably no. I’m not a big believer in playing guys out of position,” Collins said. “One guy, I got no problem with that. You start moving two and three guys out of position, you’re gonna create a mess. So I’m gonna leave him where he is right now.”
Collins watched intently as outfielder Bruce morphed into infielder Bruce, and liked what he saw.
“I liked everything I saw today. He certainly has the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angles,” Collins said. “He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. So if that’s where we have to go, I think he’ll be fine.”
Bruce is still hoping that Duda gets and remains healthy so that he can return to more familiar territory farther away from home plate. But he realizes how important the position can be.
“It makes a huge difference if you have a good first baseman,” Bruce said. “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and give the team a chance. I’m not going to go there and be a butcher. That’s not how I go about my business on the baseball field, and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it.”
Bruce knows he’s still some time away from game action at first. He needs to work in a more controlled environment to get the logistics down. And he wants to get it right because he realizes the impact it could have.
“Other than the pitcher or the catcher, you handle the ball the most on the field,” Bruce said. “Especially the way they can value positions these days with advanced metrics and all the numbers. First base is extremely important. You have the opportunity and ability to save a lot of runs over there for a team.”
This is Bruce’s 12th spring training, so he’s trying to have fun with something new, but he said it’s also a bit nerve-wracking for him as well.
“I take a lot of pride in getting my work done, in being a professional, putting a good product on the field. It carries a lot of weight with me if I am going to do it,” he said. “I don’t want to go over there and embarrass myself or the team. That’s a big deal to me.”
There was some levity on Day 1, though. As bench coach Dick Scott, standing on second base, shot hot grounders towards Bruce at first to simulate short-hop throws, one bad hop nearly took Bruce’s head off. David Wright, standing off to the side watching, yelled out ” Get used to it, Jay, you’ll be seeing a lot of those coming from third base real soon.”