Bruce searches for answers within slump

Bruce searches for answers within slump

CINCINNATI -- Seated to manager Dusty Baker's immediate right on the Reds' dugout bench for the first three innings Sunday wasn't one of his coaches.

It was where Jay Bruce spent his day off, and it wasn't an offer the right fielder could refuse. Not while he was mired in a 2-for-32 slump. Laynce Nix started in right field.

"He told me I'm going to sit with him a little bit and learn some stuff," said Bruce, who was drafted 12th overall in 2005 (2009 Draft coverage Tuesday night, live on MLB.com and MLB Network, begins at 6 p.m. ET).

"I'm going to take it in. I'll be ready for whatever task I'm given when it comes to that time."

Bruce's batting average is down to .216 with a .304 on-base percentage. The 22-year-old has struck out 46 times in 199 at-bats. He has 14 home runs and 30 RBIs, but has gone without a long ball for nine straight games and has just one RBI in that span.

There have been a few near-misses. Several of Bruce's drives have been caught at the warning track the past couple of weeks.

"Somebody told me once that will never even out -- balls hit hard vs. hits that you get," Bruce said. "I can't get upset about it. All I can do is hit the ball hard and let it take its course. The bottom line is, I'm not getting any hits lately. I expect a lot out of myself, and it's been a struggle lately. I think it will be good for me in the end."

Although he's struck out only once in his past 23 plate appearances, the biggest season-long issue for Bruce has been selectivity -- or the lack thereof.

"It's tough on you mentally when you're not getting hits, and you're used to getting hits," Baker said. "He's been better the last few days with pitch selection and not chasing stuff. He's taking some walks. I just talked to him about narrowing that strike zone box down. Focus and concentrate on making them come to the box. Walks will go up, RBIs go up and average goes up -- everything goes up."

Baker didn't believe that Bruce was putting any extra pressure on himself to get out of the hitting quagmire.

"I think they're putting pressure on him with how they're pitching him," Baker said. "Putting pressure on yourself has nothing to do with what you're swinging at. He would have imploded by now."

Bruce hit a double to center field as a pinch-hitter during the seventh inning of Sunday's 6-3 loss in 14 innings.

"I'm confident. I have a positive attitude," Bruce said. "I'm not worried about it. Obviously, I expect to do better."

Pitching matchup
CIN: RHP Johnny Cueto (5-3, 2.43 ERA)
Cueto's streak of eight straight games of at least seven innings pitched ended vs. the Cardinals on Wednesday, but he was more than good enough to earn a 9-3 win for the Reds. The 23-year-old right-hander pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up one earned run and seven hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Once again, he eliminated walks and lowered his pitch total by being aggressive and throwing strikes.

WSH: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-3, 5.71 ERA)
Against the Giants on Thursday, Zimmermann struck out seven batters and was perfect in five of the six innings he hurled. But the one imperfect inning -- the top of the second -- was enough to earn him the loss. Zimmermann gave up two runs on three hits in that frame. He was outdueled by Randy Johnson, who earned his 300th career victory in the game.

Reds notes
Nix snapped an 0-for-12 slump with a 10th inning double on Sunday. ... The Reds are 2-3 this season in extra innings. ... Cincinnati was 0-3 last season at Washington when the team was swept by the Nationals.

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Up next
• Wednesday: Reds (Aaron Harang, 5-6, 4.11) at Nationals (Ross Detwiler, 0-2, 5.23), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Reds (Micah Owings, 3-7, 4.90) at Nationals (Shairon Martis, 5-1, 5.31) , 4:35 p.m. ET
• Friday: Reds (Matt Maloney, 0-0, 3.00) at Royals (TBD), 8:10 p.m. ET

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