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Inside Pitch: Bruce makes early impact

Inside Pitch: Bruce makes early impact

Cincinnati rookie Jay Bruce made quite a Major League debut Tuesday night when he reached base five times in five plate appearances against Pittsburgh. Bruce had two singles, a double and a pair of walks during Cincinnati's 9-6 win, and while it was only one game, Reds fans aren't the only people who came away thinking Bruce may live up to the hype that preceded his arrival in the Queen City.

"I think [former All-Star Larry] Walker [is] a good comparison," said one National League scout who has watched Bruce in the Minor Leagues, during Spring Training and in his debut. "This kid has power to all fields, he can play all three [outfield] spots, and even though he's got a long swing, he can handle just about anything you throw at him and hit it hard."

The scout was most impressed to see Bruce battle Pittsburgh lefty Damaso Marte. Bruce, a left-handed hitter, singled to the opposite field off Marte in the sixth.

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"He hits lefties as well as [right-handers]," the scout said. "He's like [Cincinnati first baseman Joey] Votto, he hits lefties even better than right-handers. Walker did that most of his career, and that's another thing that made him such a great hitter. For this kid [Bruce] to be doing that already, at what, 21 [years old], is impressive."

Bruce, the organization's top Draft pick in 2005 (12th overall), is rated 2008's best prospect in all of baseball. He was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year last year.

Bruce was hitting .364 with 10 home runs, nine doubles, five triples, eight stolen bases and 37 RBIs in 49 games at Triple-A Louisville with a nine-game hitting streak when he got the call to come to Cincinnati.

"That's probably as good of a debut I've ever seen," said Reds manager Dusty Baker, a veteran of 40 big league seasons. "He made his debut well-documented and something he'll never forget. You see what's there. You see why he's so highly touted. He picked up here where he left off in Triple-A."

Purpose pitches

• If Scott Hatteberg, designated for assignment Wednesday by the Reds to clear a roster spot for Bruce, isn't picked up by another team, Cincinnati would be responsible for paying the remainder of his $1.85 million salary for this season.

Hatteberg was batting .173 with no home runs and seven RBIs in 34 games. The 38-year-old's playing time became very limited early on once the rookie Votto became the everyday first baseman. Hatteberg batted .310 last season.

"He's a [designated hitter] or first baseman," said one scout. "He'll land somewhere. The Mets could use him. Oakland or Seattle might be a fit."

The Reds haven't decided yet whether they are buyers or sellers, but some teams expect the Reds to move one or more veterans in the month ahead, though not necessarily Ken Griffey Jr. or Adam Dunn.

"I could see them moving [Javier] Valentin or [David] Ross," an official from another team said. "They aren't having good years, but both can hit and good-hitting catchers are hard to find."

• With pitching at a premium (as usual), you wonder what Oakland might get for Rich Harden should the right-hander demonstrate he is healthy over an acceptable number of starts. But assuming Oakland general manager Billy Beane would even deal Harden -- a big if -- it's unlikely he'd find a trade partner.

Harden's talent is unquestioned, but other teams say the asking price to tempt Beane would probably be too high for a pitcher with his health record.

• Following their victory Monday that gave them a Major League-best 31-20 record, it was widely reported that the Rays were the only team since the 1903 New York Giants to have the best record in baseball on Memorial Day following a season in which they had the worst record.

The Giants were 22-9 after games of May 26, 1903, while the Cubs were 24-10, a .004 lead. But in 1903, Memorial Day still fell on the traditional May 30, and on May 30, 1903, the Giants were second at 25-11 to the Cubs' 27-11. So technically the Rays' feat is unprecedented.

• Philadelphia's Pat Burrell batted .326 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in April, but he's hitting .218 (17-for-78) with five homers and 10 RBIs in May.

"He's just going through a tough period where he's not hitting," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said before Burrell went 5-for-11 in a series over the weekend at Houston. "The only thing I've seen him doing wrong is he's started to chase bad breaking balls more. But there's nothing wrong with him; he'll break out of it any time."

• Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, who had five hits Tuesday night at St. Louis, is among the league leaders in hitting with runners in scoring position (.432 through Tuesday's game) and Houston manager Cecil Cooper believes the 25-year-old will eventually be a middle-of-the-order slugger.

"I think at some point in time, he's going to become a guy like that who can hit 25 and drive in 100, and maybe even one day get to be a 30-30 guy, because he can run, he definitely has power and he has power to all fields," Cooper said. "I think Hunter's a guy who's going to be a franchise player. He's that kind of guy, he has that way about him. A guy that competes every day, wants to win all the time. He's an up-and-coming player, and he has the skills to, I think, one day be a guy that you kind of center your offense around. He can do everything. I think the three hole is the hole he'll probably end up hitting before his career is over and [he'll] be there for a long time."

• An AL scout believes the Angels will pull away from the pack in the AL West as soon as Chone Figgins is back at full speed. Figgins' sore right leg may force him to go on the disabled list.

"We're going to have to make a decision with Figgy in a couple days," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Monday. "He's making progress, but I think we're in day five now, so he's going to have to make some significant progress in the next couple of days to project him getting out there to play. Also, to make sure his needs are met to get healthy, so that could mean going back to the DL, sure."

Figgins, whose .423 on-base percentage would rank among the best in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, has appeared in just 33 of the Angels' 54 games.

"He really makes that lineup go," the scout said. "They're still very good, just not the same force they are when he's in there."

• With Peter Magowan stepping down as Giants managing general partner/president and being succeeded by William Neukom (pending official approval), the inevitable question is raised: Will the new regime mean a new GM?

Brian Sabean's contract expires after the 2009 season. The Giants are 11 games under .500, and while Sabean has drawn some criticism in recent years, since he took over as GM on Sept. 30, 1996, the Giants have won one pennant and three NL West titles. The team's .539 winning percentage during Sabean's 11 years is the 11th best among all GMs since 1950.

Sabean is most often criticized for trading Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser to Minnesota for A.J. Pierzynski, and for the Barry Zito signing, but he's also made moves that paid off, like Jeff Kent, Kirk Rueter and Aaron Rowand. Recent additions to the staff like John Barr, Ed Creech, Ron Schueler and Fred Stanley should help.

It is ultimately Neukom's call, but several front-office types from other organizations said they would be surprised if the Giants and Sabean part ways anytime soon.

• Cleveland right-hander Rafael Betancourt struck out 80 and walked just nine while allowing 51 hits in 71 innings last year. Betancourt went 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA and had one of the best seasons of any reliever last year. But he hasn't been as outstanding this season by a long shot.

Though he'd allowed only one of four inherited runners to score entering Wednesday's game, when he allowed two more against the White Sox, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was still a fine 4-to-1, Betancourt has also allowed 29 hits and 34 baserunners in 22 2/3 innings. He's given up four home runs, as many as he allowed all of last season.

"It's not his velocity," said an AL scout. "He just hadn't had the good location consistently."

Betancourt is 1-3 with four saves and a 5.56 ERA in 23 games.

Bill Hall has lost his everyday job as Milwaukee's third baseman, and he doesn't like it.

"I'm not really happy about it," Hall said. "I don't think anybody would be happy about it. Nobody's happy about losing a job."

Russell Branyan, a left-handed hitter, started at third for the third straight game when the Brewers faced right-hander Tim Hudson and the Braves on Tuesday night at Miller Park. Hall, a right-handed hitter who entered the day batting .158 against right-handed pitchers, will start against left-handed opponents and occasionally against righties when manager Ned Yost deems the matchup favorable.

"Fair?" Hall asked rhetorically. "I don't know what's fair any more. I've changed places pretty much four or five years in a row and I've done everything I could. I'm not happy with the way I'm hitting and I'm not making excuses. I'm not saying I should be in there every day, but I do have nine homers, 20-something RBIs [22]. I'm still capable of doing some damage. It is what it is. I'm here. I'm ready to play whenever my number is called."

He added: "I'm not at a point in my career to turn back into a utility player."

Yost was not surprised by Hall's frustration.

"If Billy Hall was happy about it, I wouldn't want him on this team," Yost said. "He has every right to be unhappy. He can be unhappy because that's what drives players. We have to get back to looking at numbers again, and Billy's numbers against right-handed pitching aren't very good."

• In designating right-hander Dave Borkowski for assignment Tuesday night, Houston GM Ed Wade has completely turned over the Astros bullpen from last season. Borkowski and Brian Moehler, now in the Houston rotation, were the last members of the 2007 Houston bullpen still with the team.

Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, Mark McLemore, Rick White, Stephen Randolph, Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate, Juan Gutierrez and Travis Driskill have moved on.

Wade is also attempting something of an overhaul on the Draft front. After not signing their No. 1 pick last year, and watching their 2006 top pick struggle for two years at Class A, getting a good crop from next month's Draft is a priority for the Astros.

"We've had a couple of meetings regarding the Draft," Wade said. "The picture's beginning to clarify but it could change literally minute to minute. We're going to be as prepared as any of the 30 clubs out there to get better depth and quality in our farm system. Since September of last year, it's job 1-A. We have a list of things that our scouts are required to get before we'll even put a guy into the mix for consideration [like] medical, psychological testing, statistics, scouting evaluation, signability, 60-yard dash ... and unless we have those eight pieces of information, the guy really doesn't go up on our board."

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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