Notes: Bruce gets first start

Notes: Reds' 2005 top pick gets first start

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Imagine Jay Bruce's pleasant surprise.

First, the Reds' first-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft was called over from the Minor League camp to get his first big-league exposure. Bruce came off the bench and played in a split-squad game against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., on Thursday afternoon.

Later, Bruce found out he also was needed for Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh at Ed Smith Stadium. And then, an hour before first pitch, the 19-year-old found himself in the starting lineup in right field, batting seventh, when Josh Hamilton was scratched because of shin splints.

"I can't ask for anything more. It's unbelievable," said Bruce, wearing No. 83 without his last name on the back. "I got over here hoping to get an at-bat. I got two in the last game and I'm starting this game."

In the first game, Bruce delivered a broken-bat single to right field in the eighth inning of Cincinnati's 13-1 loss to the Pirates. In the second game, he went 0-for-3 with a pair of flyouts and a strikeout. He also committed a fielding error in the sixth on Andrew McCutchen's fly ball near the foul line.

Bruce's appearances added an intriguing glimpse into the future. Baseball America ranked the Beaumont, Texas native as the best player in low Class A and the Reds organization's second-best prospect, behind pitcher Homer Bailey.

Last season for Class A Dayton, Bruce batted a team-high .291 with 16 home runs, and his 81 RBIs led Reds' Minor Leaguers. It's likely the five-tool talent will move up to high Class A Sarasota when the season starts.

"He's got a chance to be a good player," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "We're talking about a young man that's probably going to be in A ball, maybe Double-A tops, during the year. To get in a big-league exhibition game was a tremendous experience for him."

Earlier this week, Bruce stepped in the cage to hit against Reds starter Kyle Lohse in a simulated game. The left-handed hitter felt the learning curve is shortening, especially when he gets to face pitchers at the highest levels.

"As far as velocity, it's about the same," Bruce said. "But the Major League pitchers are much more controlled. They have a much better idea of how to pitch. They can spot up a lot better. They're more effective with their pitches. Sinkers sink a little more and stuff like that.

"I think just experiencing playing and at-bats will help me the most. Why not do it at the elite level right now? I'm excited to get the chance."

Jockeying for position: The battle for the fifth starter spot got a little messy on Thursday.

In the day game versus Pittsburgh, Kirk Saarloos gave up five earned runs and seven hits over four innings in his first tough outing. Later in the game, Paul Wilson was tapped for four earned runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.

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Wilson, trying to return from 2005 shoulder surgery, has alternated strong showings with less stellar performances this spring.

"It looked like today his location just wasn't as good," Narron said of Wilson's performance.

In the night game, a 3-2 win over the Pirates, lefty Bobby Livingston allowed two earned runs and eight hits with one walk and four strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings. Livingston, who last worked only one inning in a relief outing on Sunday, gave up both of his runs, three hits and a walk during a bumpy first inning.

"I just had too much energy out there. I was too amped," Livingston said. "It was kind of hard getting it under control out there in competition. I think for the most part I made pitches when I needed to."

"I don't know if he feels it or not, but he knows he has a chance to make our club, and there's probably a lot of pressure on him," Narron said. "He has good movement on his pitches and he settled down a little after the first."

Since the fifth spot comes up again on Tuesday when the Reds have a scheduled off-day, Narron expected Saarloos, Wilson or Livingston to get work in a simulated or Minor League game. One of the pitchers could move up a day and work in relief behind starter Bronson Arroyo on Monday when Cincinnati plays Detroit.

"Fine by me," Livingston said. "As long as I'm pitching, I'm still in the hunt."

Another fifth starter hopeful, Elizardo Ramirez, has not pitched since he faced the Yankees on March 7 because he's been bothered by a stiff right shoulder. It is not known when Ramirez will get into his next game.

Majewski update: Still trying to return from a sore right shoulder, reliever Gary Majewski was scheduled to throw 35 pitches in a bullpen session on the back fields Thursday. Majewski said before the session that his arm has felt good lately. If it remains that way, he should throw against Minor League hitters this weekend.

Majewski's throwing was limited at the start of Spring Training, and he has yet to appear in a game. With just two weeks before the April 2 regular-season opener, the right-hander might not be ready in time.

"I'm not even worried about it," Majewski said. "If it happens, it happens. As long as I'm healthy, it's all that matters."

"It'll be close," Narron said. "If a player hasn't played by now, it's questionable."

More injury reports: Outfielder Ryan Freel took his third straight game off as a precaution for his sore right hamstring. Freel said he could have played with the injury during the regular season.

Reliever Bill Bray had been bothered by a stiff left shoulder for about a week, but he has felt better the past couple of days. Bray hopes he will be able to work in a bullpen session on Friday.

Outfielder Bubba Crosby exited Thursday night's game after one inning with a mild strain of his left calf muscle. Crosby, who will be reevaluated on Friday, fell down trying to catch Ronny Paulino's first-inning drive to the center-field wall.

Coming up: The Reds will remain in Sarasota on Friday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Blue Jays on Friday. After missing a couple of days with the flu, reliever Dustin Hermanson is expected to be back in action. Eric Milton will start for Cincinnati, with fifth starter candidate Matt Belisle also getting some innings. Roy Halladay is scheduled to start for Toronto.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.