Bruce using all fields to beat infield shifts

Lefty slugger worked on going opposite way this spring

Bruce using all fields to beat infield shifts

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it was because his team was trailing the Cubs by eight runs in the ninth inning on Thursday, or maybe not. But Reds right fielder Jay Bruce couldn't help but notice something when he led off.

The Cubs were not employing a right-side shift on the left-handed hitter. Bruce hit a 2-1 pitch from Justin Grimm for a sharply grounded single into right field.

"They were playing me straight up. Usually that's an out," Bruce said on Friday. "That was interesting to me. That was odd that they didn't shift me. I don't know if over the first-whatever games they noticed or if it was a lapse in judgment. It would have been one of those balls you hit hard to no avail."

Bruce entered Friday night's game against the Cardinals batting 11-for-33 this season, with eight hits going to the middle or opposite field -- including one of his two home runs. Nine hits were to center. In the sixth inning on Thursday, he beat a shift with a double lined through an open left side.

Using the whole field is something Bruce often strives to do, but he made considerable efforts in Spring Training to improve at hitting the other way. He also worked on bunting to an empty left side.

"It is satisfying, but it is a balance. I don't want to become a slap hitter, obviously," Bruce said. "I want them to play it as honest as possible. The bunting is more of a counterpunch. The more you can keep the field opened up, the more opportunity you're going to have to be successful. I'm not up there trying to hit the ball to left field, it's more trusting my approach and not committing to anything too, too early."

Bruce struggled the last two seasons for myriad reasons, but his chances were often minimized by the right-side infield shift that has proliferated against lefty hitters around baseball. Of his 238 hits in 2014-15, 121 of them were to the middle off the field and 21 were to left field. Working with hitting coach Don Long, Bruce has made some hand adjustments to have a more direct path to the ball, especially those thrown to the outside of the plate.

"What you have to balance is doing things that make you successful and not getting away from my strengths, which is driving the ball all over the field," Bruce said. "My best swing is to right-center field. I think that those opportunities are going to present themselves."

Worth noting

• Catcher Devin Mesoraco is still bothered by some upper leg stiffness, manager Bryan Price said. Mesoraco could return in the next couple of days.

• Pitcher John Lamb, who is coming back from December back surgery, will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Louisville and start against Toledo.

• Pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, on the disabled list with a left oblique strain, threw a side bullpen session on Friday without issue.

• Pitcher Homer Bailey, nearing the end of Tommy John surgery rehab, is scheduled to throw three innings on Saturday in an extended spring game in Goodyear, Ariz.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.