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Posted: Friday June 6, 2008 11:58AM; Updated: Monday November 10, 2008 4:52PM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >

Bruce is Loose: Reds rookie unleashes fast start on NL foes

Story Highlights

Is Reds rookie Edinson Volquez another Pedro Martinez?

A Hall of Fame executive gets ready to call it a career

Thoughts on the MLB Draft, news and notes from around the bigs

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Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Bruce
Jay Bruce (right) once got in trouble for trying to talk to Ken Griffey Jr. Now, he can reach out and touch Griffey anytime he wants.

PHILADELPHIA -- By almost all accounts, Jay Bruce is the best-liked, most-grounded rookie anyone's ever seen. But Bruce, 21, is also famous for a small bit of mischief perpetrated as a youngster. Legend has it that as an 8-year-old he called long-distance to Seattle's Kingdome in search of his childhood hero, Ken Griffey Jr.

Bruce never got Griffey on the phone that day but said he instead did get a "guilty conscience" and a little bit of trouble with his parents for running up the phone bill in his Beaumont, Texas home. He can hardly believe how things have changed.

"He's now a friend,'' he says of Griffey, as if to confirm it to himself.

Bruce, now 21, rarely has made a misstep since. He has made an early impression with the Reds, and it's not just about his .432 batting average, .533 on-base percentage or .757 slugging percentage. Right from the start, he showed he fit in with an unusual ability to laugh at himself.

At his big-league debut on May 27, Reds veterans gave him the royal rookie treatment. While the other eight starters faked liked they were about to take the field before the first inning, Bruce ran out by himself. He laughed off the joke, tipping his cap. "They broke me in,'' Bruce recalled. "It was funny.''

No surprise, Bruce is getting the last laugh. Heading into this season, in many circles he was considered baseball's best positional prospect. Yet, a start that included 16 hits in 30 at-bats is an attention grabber, no matter what the expectation.

Asked to explain his Red-hot start, Bruce said simply "Sample size."

Even so, Bruce's torrid beginning has drawn enough attention that at times he's overshadowed his hero's chase for his historic 600th home run. On May 31, the same day Griffey hit No. 599, Bruce smacked a 10th-inning walkoff homer off reliever Manny Acosta to beat the Braves 8-7.

The Great American story was launched at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park.

Griffey paid Bruce ultimate compliment, saying then that he thought he was looking at a young version of him. But Bruce disagreed, "There's only one Ken Griffey,'' he said.

Then, showing he knows a bit of history, Bruce added about Griffey, "He was All-Century when he was 30.''

The better comparison is probably Larry Walker, who had great tools. Bruce, also lefthanded, has speed and an arm like the 19-year-old Griffey that broke in with the Mariners in 1989. But he isn't quite the spectacular outfielder Griffey was. "Very efficient'' was the way Bruce described his outfield play. "I really focus on getting good jumps and making the right plays.''

Bruce, the 12th player drafted in the great 2005 draft (eight players picked ahead of him, including Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun reached the majors before him), has always been a considered a phenom. Some may assume his uncanny ability to always say and do the right thing is a reflection of his unusual experience in the spotlight. But the real secret may be in his own upbringing.

Bruce's sister Kellan has a mental disability, which some believe led to Bruce's surprising sensitivity. "It makes me not take anything for granted,'' Bruce said. "It makes me appreciate things. I have been blessed.''

Eight very impressive games his career, he appears to remain that humble Texas kid. "I'd be really surprised is he ever changed,'' Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I've seen some change over the years. But I can't see him changing.''

Volquez: Another Pedro?

Reds righthander Edinson Volquez, who shut down the Phillies Wednesday night and beat Brett Myers on a night Myers carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, has such a deadly fastball-changeup combination that he appears to be the early favorite to start the All-Star Game, only one year after he pitched in A-ball (or "high A'' as Volquez described the level).

Either way, it's yet another amazing story about a young star in Cincinnati (there are at least three, with first baseman Joey Votto also off to a big start). Watching Volquez the other night pitching against an impossibly difficult Phillies lineup in the ridiculously unfair Citizens Bank Park, and then listening to him later, he's somewhat reminiscent of a young Pedro Martinez. His fastball and changeup are in the realm of a young Pedro. And so is his winning personality.

The 24-year-old Dominican smiled and laughed his way through an entire post-game interview. The game was a little more tense, though Volquez made it through seven innings, allowing two hits, striking out eight and made some of the game's best hitters look silly. They included Chase Utley, who went 0-for-3 and struck out twice.

"I have to throw changeups inside to him,'' Volquez (now 8-2) said. "Fastballs away ... he's going to kill you.''

Utley responded, "I wish I would have known that before.''

Volquez, who came to Cincinnati with just-promoted reliever Danny Herrera in a trade for Triple Crown threat Josh Hamilton in what may turn out to be one of the most memorable deals ever, throws so well, it may not matter if Utley knew what was coming. His fastball, which has hit 96 mph, was regularly at 94 range that night, and his changeup is consistently 80 mph.

That arsenal, along with the league's unfamiliarity with him, helps explain his 1.32 ERA, which is nearly a full run lower than anyone else in baseball (Tim Lincecum of the Giants is second at 2.23). And he's the first pitcher since 1945 to begin a season with 12 straight starts without allowing more than two runs.

"He's got a very live arm,'' Utley said. "And he's got a great changeup.''

The Phillies' Pat Burrell said, "He's really good. He changes spends, he locates and he keeps the ball down. He has enough velocity that you have to respect the changeup.''

And Shane Victorino said, "Very good pitcher. He uses all his pitches. He's not afraid to throw pitches in different counts. And he throws strikes.''

He certainly made an impression.

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