Posted on April 11, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Few players needed to get off to a fast start in 2017 more than New York Mets outfielder Jay Bruce, as he tries to erase a dreadful two months he experienced after being traded to the Mets last summer. Well, Bruce has done just that, as he has been New York’s top offensive performer during the first week of the season. He’s tied for the lead league in home runs, including two on Monday to carry the Mets to victory in their series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Mets acquired Bruce last August to help give their injury-riddled lineup a boost, as they made a push for the postseason. Unfortunately, Bruce hit a terrible slump immediately after arriving in New York and soon felt the wrath of Mets fans, who have not easily forgotten the slugger’s immense struggles, even though he did start to heat up over the last two weeks of September.
After the Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes over the winter, the team tried to trade Bruce to open the door for Michael Conforto. But with power hitters receiving such tepid interest from teams over the offseason, a trade wasn’t in the cards, forcing the Mets to keep Bruce and play him over Conforto, another decision that upset fans, who wanted to see Conforto play every day rather than the Bruce they saw late last season.
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However, Bruce was undeterred. With free agency on the horizon for him next winter, and 2017 being one of the few times in his career in which he’s started the year on a team with legitimate World Series aspirations, Bruce was determined to find redemption with the Mets this season.
“Listen, I am the guy you traded for,” Mets manager Terry Collins recalls Bruce saying to him before the season. “I had the worst month of my career in New York. I understand that, but I’m a run producer.”
Bruce has backed up those words. While most of New York’s lineup has struggled to get going early in the season, including Cespedes, Bruce is hitting .304 with four home runs. He’s no longer pressing the way he was last season when he was trying to impress his new fan base. Between his home run power and patience at the plate, drawing six walks in seven games, Bruce is rocking an OPS of 1.318 through the first week of the season.
“I want to be a good player,” Bruce said after his heroics Monday, hitting two home runs against the Phillies, including the games go-ahead homer in the top of the 8th. “I want to help this team win. I believe that we have a legitimate chance to win a World Series, and I just want to be one of the pieces to the puzzle.”
Bruce began the season hitting down in the order, batting as low as 7th. However, Collins has moved him into the cleanup spot the past two games and it has paid immediate dividends, as Bruce has gone 3 for 7 with three home runs.
“I haven’t seen (him) like this,” Collins said Monday. “I (knew) it was in there somewhere. I’m just glad it’s right now because we’re not swinging the bats as a cumulative team.”
Mets fans may or may not be coming around on Bruce just yet, but his teammates certainly recognize the impact he’s had early this year and the impact he can have on the rest of the season.
“Last year, he started a little bit slow with us,” shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera said of Bruce. “But I know what kind of player he is, and what player we see right now is the player he’s been all his career.”
Without Bruce, New York’s modest 4-3 start to the season could have been much worse. He’s the lone offensive force the Mets have right now. Early in 2017, he looks like the player the Mets thought they were trading for last summer, as Bruce is off to a great start in his quest for redemption in New York.