Jay Bruce has spent the majority of his 12-year big-league career -- 94% of it, actually -- in the National League. His equipment bag has always been stocked with gloves as well as bats.
But you won't catch the Phillies slugger weeping over the arrival of the designated hitter this year -- and possibly for good.
For one thing, Bruce will be a free agent after this pandemic-shortened season. A universal DH means more jobs for 33-year-old outfielders who missed time last year with an arm injury and want to keep playing in 2021 and beyond.
For another, well, Bruce is just a fan of offense.
“I grew up in the National League. It was all strategy. I hate double-switches,” Bruce said before DHing for Team Red in the Phillies’ intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. “In my opinion, it’s a more fluid game when it comes to the DH style. I’m a fan of it. I can understand why people are kind of hung on the National League style of play. But I think it’s just as good of a game with the DH.”
Good thing, too. Because while the DH will be extended to the NL during this 60-game season, marking the first time that both leagues have played with the same rules since the DH was implemented in the American League in 1973, there's a good chance that it will become permanent under a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2021 season.
Like every NL team, the Phillies didn’t build their 2020 roster with a DH in mind, so manager Joe Girardi intends to rotate players through that spot. If J.T. Realmuto needs a break from catching, he can DH; if left fielder Andrew McCutchen needs to rest his surgically repaired knee, he can DH. You get the idea.
Bruce, though, figures he will get the “lion’s share” of the Phillies’ DH at-bats. It makes sense. He has 312 career home runs, seventh-most among all active players, and went deep 10 times in 103 at-bats in his first month with the Phillies last year after being acquired in a trade with the Seattle Mariners.
But he's coming back from a strained flexor in his left forearm, a condition that limited his throwing in spring training as he rebuilt his arm strength but hasn't been an issue at all in this post-quarantine camp.
Oh, and with McCutchen now ready to open the delayed season, Bruce wouldn’t have had a spot in a non-DH Phillies lineup.
"That DH opened up more at-bats for him," Girardi said. "It's a potent bat. I mean, everyone saw what he did the month that he was healthy here. This guy, he can hit and he's been able to hit for a long time and be a run producer."
Bruce has been a DH in only 16 games in his career, including three consecutive games late last season against the Cleveland Indians. He's 12-for-54 with four homers.
Over the years, he has talked to players with DH experience about their routine for staying ready. The biggest challenge, he figures, will be keeping up his conditioning to be ready to play the outfield when he’s needed.
There's also the question of occupying time between at-bats, presumably a bigger issue in pandemic baseball. Indoor batting cages will be available for use during games, according to MLB's health-and-safety manual, but are generally "discouraged" and decidedly less desirable than before.
Bruce will figure it out, just as he believes the traditionalists who love to watch pitchers hit will eventually come around to the universal DH.
“It definitely takes away a bit of the strategy when it comes to managing bullpens and stuff like that,” Bruce said. “Some people say it takes away from the athleticism of the game, [that] it’s a more dynamic game in the NL. I don’t know if I believe that.
“I know it takes away from 93 percent of basically automatic-out at-bats, which I think is good. If people want to see a more offensive game, especially with the way pitching has been trending the last five or six years, I think the DH is a way to attack that.”
It'll extend a few careers, too.