Bruce returns to form in healthy 2016

Reds right-fielder excelling at plate and in outfield

Bruce returns to form in healthy 2016

CINCINNATI -- Jay Bruce used to always beg off talk of how much the left knee surgery he underwent in 2014 affected him that season. No excuses.

It wasn't as if the Reds' right fielder was offering up one as he spoke with reporters about his recent play, which included some defensive gems and a mammoth home run blast over the first two games of their series against the A's, but the subject of the knee did creep into the conversation. It came with good reason.

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"I feel like myself," said Bruce, who's hitting .271/.325/.570 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs this season. "I went through a year, 2014, I wasn't very good defensively at all. It was just one of those deals where my knee had something to do with it. I take a lot of pride in my defense. I feel normal."

Normal for Bruce was very good. From the time he broke into the Major Leagues in 2008 through the 2013 season, he hit .257/.330/.482 with 164 home runs and 485 RBIs. While the home run (44) and RBIs (153) numbers were still decent the last two seasons, Bruce's overall offensive production dropped significantly. He was a .222/.288/.406 hitter in 2014-15 combined.

His five triples, which match a career high, lead the National League this season. He was a 30-30 player (doubles and home runs) in 2012 and 2013 when he won Silver Slugger awards, and he is on pace to reach that plateau once again this season.

Bruce's 439-foot, two-run home run off of A's rookie Daniel Mengden on Saturday provided the Reds with all of the offense they'd need in a 2-1 win. The ball landed three rows from the top of the Sun Deck section in right field of Great American Ball Park, just below the large video board that was installed last season.

Two players have hit balls out of Great American since the stadium opened in 2003; Adam Dunn in 2004 and Juan Francisco in 2011. Dunn's went to straight-away center field before the large Pilot House boat that currently sits atop the batter's eye was added. Francisco's went out down the right-field line.

Adding his name to those two is the last thing on Bruce's mind.

"It's probably the worst thought I could have in a game," said Bruce. "I'm not a guy who needs to try to hit home runs. Never have been. My goal is a consistent approach, good direction and swing at the right pitches. That's the only thing I think about."

Bruce's nice catch

Bruce's glove played a big role in the wins against the A's on Friday and Saturday. He played two balls off the right field wall on Friday, one of which led to Yonder Alonso being thrown out at second base attempting to stretch a single into a double. On Saturday, Bruce went deep into the right-field corner to track down a fly ball off the bat of Marcus Semien for the first out of the ninth inning and keep pinch-runner Tyler Ladendorf, the potential tying run, at first base.

"Jay's catch was really helpful," said reliever Ross Ohlendorf, who registered the save Saturday. "He ran a really long way. It was a great play. When I looked up, I was thinking it was going to probably go in just because it was so close to the line. But he got a good jump and did a good job of finishing it, too."

For Bruce, it all comes back to one notion.

"Like I said, I feel like myself."

Kevin Goheen is a contributor to MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.