Things that happen every day:
--The sun rises in the east.
--The sun sets in the west.
--Jay Bruce homers for the Phillies.
You can almost set your watch by it. Bruce has started three games in left field since the Phillies acquired him last Sunday in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. And he has gone deep in each of those games, helping to carry an offense that is being reshaped in the absence of leadoff-hitting catalyst Andrew McCutchen.
Bruce’s latest blast, a two-run shot in the fifth inning Friday night, came in his first home game for the Phillies. It also gave them a lead against the Cincinnati Reds in an eventual 4-2 victory that also featured a run that was single-handedly manufactured by Scott Kingery, a solid start from Zach Eflin, and a spotless eighth inning from starter-turned-setup-man Vince Velasquez.
But Bruce is the one who made history, becoming the first player in the modern era to hit four homers in his first four games with the Phillies, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s incredible,” Eflin said after the Phillies won their third consecutive game. “I’m just glad he’s on our side. He tortured us for a long time, but we’re lucky to have that bat in the lineup.”
The Phillies dealt for Bruce in part because they wanted another left-handed bat while Odubel Herrera is on administrative leave in conjunction with a domestic assault charge. But everything changed Monday night when McCutchen suffered a season-ending left knee injury.
Bruce finished that game in McCutchen’s place and was thrust into an everyday role, the type he has filled for most of his 12-year career. He went deep twice Tuesday night in a 9-6 victory in San Diego, then again in a 7-5, come-from-behind win Wednesday.
Against the Reds, Bruce jumped on a first-pitch curveball from starter Tyler Mahle and kick-started the Phillies’ offense, which had mustered just one hit through the first four innings. It was his 304th career home run — and his 11th in 146 career at-bats at Citizens Bank Park, which appears to be ideal for his swing.
“I know you are probably referring to it being homer-friendly and hitter-friendly, but it doesn’t really matter to me a whole lot honestly where I play as far as that goes,” said Bruce, who spent the first 8½ seasons of his career with the Reds. “But I am excited to play in front of people. A lot of them. That’s what I am excited about.”
The Phillies were excited to see Velasquez retire three batters on 15 pitches in the eighth inning. Earlier in the day, they learned that reliever Seranthony Dominguez damaged a ligament in his right elbow that might require season-ending surgery. Velasquez will get the first chance to hold down the eighth inning in Dominguez’s absence.
“I don’t mind coming in and try to fill in for him,” Velasquez said. “I know it’s a big role in that situation. It’s a different mind-set going into that inning. But I’m fully capable of gathering preparation, my mind-set, physically, mentally, whatever it may be to come in and close the doors in that inning and then allow [Hector] Neris to come in and shut the door like he did today. Today was a great demonstration of what could continue happening.”
Eflin returned to the mound after 10 days on the injured list with back tightness and gave up a solo home run to Joey Votto on his fifth pitch of the game. Ninety pitches later, he left with a lead and a quality start.
Bruce’s homer gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead that grew to 3-1 after Kingery punched a single to left field, advanced to second and third on successive ground outs, then drew a pickoff throw to third base from catcher Tucker Barnhart and scored when the ball sailed into left field.
Eflin departed with one out in the sixth inning, leaving the injury-ravaged bullpen to pick up the final eight outs. Jose Alvarez, Velasquez and Neris did just that.
“We lose a guy who took on high-leverage innings for us, and if we can gain one in Vince it makes the blow a lot less powerful,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s going to be a blow nonetheless, but it certainly softens it.”