Jay Bruce Is Eager to Take Advantage of Starting Opportunity With Yankees

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TAMPA — After Jay Bruce opted out of his contract on Thursday, the veteran slugger sat at home for two days, waiting patiently for the Yankees to get back to him regarding his future in pinstripes.

Even after 13 seasons in the big leagues, Bruce admitted that he had never felt this kind of stress before. 

Then, late Friday night and into Saturday morning, Bruce got the call from his agent. New York had signed him to a Major League contract, adding him to the 40-man roster.

"I'm extremely excited about making the team," Bruce said in a Zoom call on Saturday. "I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity and I look forward to continuing towards the goal of winning a World Series."

As much as Bruce was able to rejoice about making New York's Opening Day roster, it was bittersweet. The Yankees learned first baseman Luke Voit needs left knee surgery that same night, an instrumental factor in the decision by the organization to keep Bruce around rather than granting him his release.

When Luke Voit Is Expected to Return From Left Knee Surgery

"Luke's injury is disheartening for everyone," Bruce said. "I wish him a speedy and full recovery. I had meniscus surgery in 2014 so I know what he's going through right now. He's obviously a big part of this team and my goal is not to come here to replace Luke Voit. It's to be Jay Bruce and help the team just like I planned on helping the team when I signed a contract to come here."

With the announcement that Voit will start the season on the sidelines, Yankees manager Aaron Boone revealed on Saturday morning that Bruce will be this club's starting first baseman in his place. 

If you've followed Bruce's career, dating back to his rookie season with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008, you know the slugger has played pretty much exclusively in right field. That's a big reason why Bruce has played first base so much this spring, a chance for Boone and the Yankees to get a glimpse of what they're working with.

"I don't want to say pleasantly surprised, because I know he's [played there] before, but he certainly has looked the part to me over there," Boone said earlier in the week. "I feel like he moves naturally over at first base."

In his last four seasons, Bruce has played in 54 games at first base. That's compared to a grand total of 1,510 appearances in the outfield over his career. 

Even with the small sample size, Bruce believes he can be an above-average defender at the position and that he will continue to improve there with more reps going forward. With eight games and 43 innings at first base under his belt this spring, not to mention countless reps at the position in batting practice and workouts, he was already taking steps toward that goal before Voit's injury news. 

"I'm confident that I can play a very adequate first base and with more practice I think I can be good over there," he said. "Sounds like I'm going to get a lot more of an opportunity to be there pretty exclusively for the foreseeable future here and I look forward to being able to focus on that."

Jay Bruce Is Relishing His First Chance to Play For the Yankees

Speaking of small sample sizes, Bruce has struggled mightily at the plate in the Bronx. The slugger is hitting .113 in his career at Yankee Stadium (6-for-53 in 15 games). Sure, one of his two home runs at that ballpark came last season off of New York's ace Gerrit Cole, but the success that you'd think a lefty power hitter would have simply hasn't been there to this point.

We are talking about a slugger with 318 career home runs, fifth-most among active players.

With a chance now to get more comfortable at Yankee Stadium, playing half his games in the Bronx, Bruce is looking forward to doing more damage for the home team.

"I've gotten to play there, but not a lot," Bruce said. "I think being more comfortable and getting at-bats there, I do look forward to hitting there and I look forward to everything that comes with it. To be able to experience playing for the Yankees with fans in the stands is going to be something on the right side of it this time. It's going to be something that I'm really looking forward to."

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