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Here's a big switch: Reds RF Bruce makes 1st career start at 1B in place of injured Votto

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CINCINNATI - Four hours before the first pitch, right fielder Jay Bruce was taking ground balls at a position he hasn't played since high school.

The Reds are making a big switch to get by without Joey Votto.

Bruce was ready to start at first base on Monday against the Chicago Cubs, the first time in his professional career that he's played anywhere other than the outfield. Manager Bryan Price said Bruce will play first on occasion while Votto deals with a nagging thigh injury that could land him back on the disabled list.

"We don't really have a bunch of true first basemen here besides Joey," Price said. "So Jay's been taking ground balls over there. And he has some history there — not a lot, and it's not in pro ball, but he does have some history there and he looks athletic doing it."

The big question is what to do with Votto.

The 2010 NL MVP missed 23 games with a strained muscle above his left knee. The Reds have said the injury won't fully heal until after the season, but they'll try to keep him in the lineup as much as possible.

He's batting only .250 in 23 games since his return and hasn't homered since May 10. He struck out three times during a 1-0 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday and got the next day off.

"It's becoming apparent in the quality of his play that it's not just something that's an inconvenience," Price said. "It's getting to the point where it's very difficult for him to compete."

Votto went for another MRI on the leg before Monday's game. Price said the team was waiting to get the results before deciding whether he needs to go back on the disabled list.

"We don't know if this is going to be a DL for sure," Price said.

With Votto unavailable, the Reds were short-handed heading into a five-game series with the Cubs that includes a doubleheader on Tuesday. Catcher Brayan Pena has played first base, but was in Florida on paternity leave. He's expected back on Tuesday.

Nobody else on the roster has significant experience at first base. If Votto has to go back on the disabled list, the Reds might look for another first baseman in a trade.

"We're trying to plug a hole and we don't have an obvious solution," Price said.

For now, it's Bruce.

The lefty played first base in high school before he grew and was moved to the outfield. He got a first baseman's mitt during spring training three years ago and has occasionally taken ground balls at first base to break up the monotony of batting practice.

With Votto hurting, he started taking infield practice more regularly the last few weeks and told Price he was willing to give it a try.

"It's going to be one of those things where you learn on the fly," Bruce said. "I told Bryan I was confident I could do it. He asked me today when I could be ready to play. I said tonight, and here we are."

Bruce snapped an 0-for-26 slump on Sunday that was the longest of his career, hitting a tiebreaking two-run homer in the eighth inning for a 4-2 win over Milwaukee. The fourth-place Reds are six games behind the Brewers in the NL Central.

___

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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