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Game Report: The Bruce is Loose

June 2, 2008 | By Daniel Olson | comment on this post

The last time baseball was exciting in Cincinnati was when manager Lou Piniella was at the helm way back in the early ’90s. Prior to that, of course, The Big Red Machine dominated baseball during ’70s. Well that was a long time ago and most Reds’ fans probably have less hair and less faith nowadays. Other than trading for sure fire Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. a few years back, the team has been famous for not making any news.

But that may have changed last week. On Tuesday, the Reds called up the number one prospect in baseball, Jay Bruce, and it paid huge dividends all week as the team capped off a 5-1 week on Sunday by beating the Atlanta Braves.

Rookie Johnny Cueto hurled a gem, allowing only two runs in seven innings on 100 pitches.

The Reds started things off early, tagging Atlanta ace Tim Hudson for three runs in the first four innings. Hudson was able to last another three-plus innings, only allowing one more run, but an error by Yunel Escobar in the seventh led to two unearned runs off Blaine Boyer, pushing the lead to 6-2 after the Braves had cut the lead to 3-2 in the previous inning behind back-to-back homers by Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann.

Reds’ reliever Jared Burton came in for Cueto in the eighth and scattered two hits in two innings to close the game for Cincy, finishing a noisy week which saw rookie sensation Bruce bat .591 in his first six big league games (all of which he started in right field).

The Reds record currently sits at 28-29 and they are 7.5 games back of the Cardinals, but with an impressive 7-3 run in their last ten, they’re making some noise. Bruce’s promotion has clearly provided a spark, so look for things to potentially heat up in Reds’ land.

Fantasy Factor

How can I not talk about Bruce? Just looking at his first six boxscores makes me blush. After a half dozen games in the majors, he has a six-game hitting streak and a .591 batting average with two home runs, six runs batted in, and an impressive six walks, showing he has a keen eye at the plate — rare footage for a youngster. While most were surprised, frustrated, even angry when he wasn’t named to the Opening Day roster, fear not because Bruce time is here and if his first week is any indication of what is to come then we have something special on our hands. If he is not claimed in your fantasy league yet, don’t be foolish; pick him up and start him now.

Cueto started the year off masterfully and nearly every owner was rushing to get him after he allowed only three runs in 13 1/3 innings. He then hit a slump, common to many rookies, as his ERA ballooned to way over the five barrier. But Cueto has shown he has good stuff still as he has allowed just four earned runs over his last two starts, resulting in two victories. He might be too inconsistent this season to be a huge fantasy factor, but look to this young hurler in the future to be a successful strikeout pitcher as he definitely has good stuff.

A few weeks ago, the rumors ran rampant that Griffey might be traded back to his first team, the Seattle Mariners. But now that the Reds are making a play towards respectability and the Mariners sit with nearly the worst record in baseball, this is more than likely not going to happen and Griffey will stick with this surging Reds’ team. His batting average is lower than one would like at a mere .255, but he has shown signs of heating up as he hit his 599th career home run on Saturday and went 3-for-9 over the weekend.

He also still sports a respectable .343 OBP, so at least he’s getting on base at a decent clip. I wouldn’t recommend him as a top outfielder but as a fourth or fifth outfielder on your team, he should be just fine.

Jerry Hairston Jr., the lesser known Jr. on the Reds, is the third shortstop the team has employed this season and, like the ones before him, is producing nicely. In 96 at bats, he is batting .344 with one home run and 11 RBI. Factor that in with a .390 OBP and it looks like you might have yourself a decent leadoff hitter. Don’t expect Hairston to bat at this clip all year as his career batting average sits at only .256. But he might be a viable short-term replacement option, especially if you were starting Jeff Keppinger at short.

Is Chipper Jones’ run for .400 finally winding down? Jones went 0-for-4 on Sunday, dropping his batting average to a pathetic .405, meaning he just barely finished May with his average over .400. That is just awful, I would cut him right away. Okay, kidding aside, Jones is completely locked in despite his 0-fer on Sunday. He probably won’t bat over .400 for the season, but it definitely looks like he is having a career year at the ripe age of 36.

With 12 home runs and 35 RBI, he is the best run producer for the Braves right now. He is also sporting a Barry Bonds-esque .489 OBP, meaning he is almost getting on base one out of every two at bats for you non-math majors. The point here is keep him in your lineup. He is a machine this year.

In his fourth year in the league, McCann is poised to take over as the best offensive catcher in baseball, and many scouts say he even remind them of Mike Piazza in his heyday. McCann went 1-for-4 on Sunday with a homer, his tenth jack of the season while also sporting a beefy 33 runs batted in. That puts him perfectly on pace for his first 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign. If you can find a way to get him on your team, do it, because he is a bona fide stud.

Hudson hit a rut on Sunday, surrendering four runs — three earned — in six innings as his record dropped to 7-4 on the season. Despite that, his ERA sits at a very nice 3.01 for the season and he is continually one of the leaders of a solid Braves’ staff. Unfortunately, he left the game with a tweak of his left hamstring on Sunday, so keep your eyes open on news alerts to monitor his progress and find out whether he can make his next start. If he can start, make sure he is in your lineup as he has had a great year.

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