Groundhog Day: Another standout game for Jackie Bradley Jr.
|03.24.13 at 4:45 pm ET|
CLEARWATER, Fla. — It’s reached the point of the absurd. Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to author one of the most impressive spring trainings in recent Red Sox memory, let alone one by a non-roster invitee with just one full year of professional experience.
On Sunday, in the Red Sox’ 7-6 win over the Phillies in Grapefruit League play, he added another chapter to what has become a remarkable spring tale. Batting seventh against left-hander Cliff Lee, Bradley launched a drove a fastball the opposite way for a (wind-aided) three-run homer in his first at-bat, then lined a first-pitch fastball for a sacrifice fly to center in his second at-bat.
“You can say all you want about the conditions, wind-aided stuff, but he put a good swing on the ball,” said manager John Farrell. “He picked a good pitch the next time up for the sac fly. And in those elements, the defensive side of it obviously was very good.”
Still, he revealed human dimensions in the later innings, striking out swinging on a nasty curveball from Lee, the former Cy Young winner and then later doing the same on a breaking ball from left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst.
“He got me to chase the curveball up and I thought it was going to have a little more tilt than it had. It actually slid instead of curved, so he got me on that one,” Bradley acknowledged of the Horst at-bat. “I was going to sit on it because i looked so bad on that swing. he threw it to me again, and I didn’t put a good swing on it.”
Bradley — starting in left field for the first time all spring — also committed a defensive gaffe, dropping a pop-up just behind the infield dirt after calling off Will Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias.
Nonetheless, the overall impression continues to be one of a player who is performing at a level that is way beyond any reasonable expectations for someone with his experience level. Against one of the top pitchers in recent years, he went to the plate with a clear game plan and executed it.
That Bradley hit a home run represented something of an afterthought, given that the ball road a jet stream to sneak over the fence. But his approach — looking for a pitch away that he could drive, and doing just that — underscored the notion that he’s playing the game with an uncommon maturity level. So, too, did his second at-bat, when with a runner on third, he ambushed a first-pitch fastball and made hard contact to drive in his fourth run of the game.
The advancement of his game has certainly convinced members of the Sox roster that Bradley is ready for the big leagues right now if the Sox decide to proceed in that fashion.
“I never say it’s too early,” said teammate Shane Victorino. “This game in this day and age, you’ve got these 19- and 20-year-olds getting their opportunities and making the best of it. Hey, who knows? I don’t make that decision. Do I think he’s ready? I think he’s proven. He’s gone out there in spring training and given himself every opportunity to be on the big league team. you know, again is it going to come down to numbers? Who knows. It’s not my decision nor it it anybody on the field’s decision. It’s something that they’re going to have to make a decision wise off the field. But I think he’s put himself definitely in a great position to be on the big league team.”
OTHER GAME NOTES
– Daniel Bard had an outing that represented, to manager John Farrell, “a step in the right direction” after a couple of struggles in recent games. He struck out three batters in an inning of work — pitcher Cliff Lee on a fastball, Jimmie Rollins and Ryan Howard on sliders — on a day when he worked in the strike zone with his fastball (which sat at 95 mph and touched 97 mph, according to a scout) while showing sharpness at times on both his slider and change.
“I was really happy with how I threw the ball,” said Bard, who lamented after his last outing — a struggle in minor league camp — that he had struggled to manufacture the adrenaline to pitch well, at a time when he’s fighting for a big league roster spot. “I think I pitched better when I felt like there was something on the line. I know there’s a lot on the line for me personally and I think having guys in the box who are all-stars every year kind of makes you bring it up to another level. That’s definitely who I would have picked to face – that part of the lineup. It was fun and I felt like I was in control.”
Farrell noted that Bard’s arm slot dropped at times during the outing (in which he allowed an unearned run on two hits — one a bunt single — while striking out three and walking none), meaning that there’s still some mechanical consistency to work out, but did seem to think it represented improvement given his ability to control his fastball.
– Mike Napoli went 3-for-4, while Jose Iglesias took some impressive swings in going 3-for-3 with a double. While the Sox have been impressed by Iglesias’ improved offensive approach this year — particularly his ability to have a game plan against fastballs, even as he still struggles with breaking balls outside of the zone — Farrell did make clear before the game that Stephen Drew will be the starting shortstop when he’s healthy, at which time Iglesias will head back to Pawtucket.
– Will Middlebrooks also had a strong game, going 2-for-4 with a double off of Lee.
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