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Jackie Bradley Jr. learning to run with everyday role

04.30.14 at 1:40 am ET
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When the season opened, Jackie Bradley Jr.‘s role was ill-defined. He was in the big leagues only because Shane Victorino landed on the disabled list in the last game of spring training, and Bradley was expected primarily to serve as a role player off the bench, with no more than an occasional start.

No longer. Now, Bradley has become as constant a presence as there is in the Red Sox outfield. Victorino is back from the disabled list, but the Sox are still regulating his workload. Grady Sizemore, who won the Opening Day job in center field, has been relegated to part-time status due to the combination of a desire to manage his workload and his performance struggles. Jonny Gomes is playing most days, but even with an unusual volume of starts for him (seven in the last nine games), he is splitting time in left with Sizemore and Mike Carp.

Bradley, meanwhile, has become nearly indispensable. Most days, the Sox ask him to run everything down in center. On occasions when Victorino is out, the team may ask him to play right. Either way, his defense makes him so valuable to a team that’s leaked runs for much of the year that his presence at the bottom of the lineup card has been almost assured on a nightly basis.

The 24-year-old thus has been entrusted with an opportunity to play through the proverbial ups and downs of a baseball season. And with that, he’s having an opportunity to do what he’s done throughout his baseball life, chiefly figure out a way to be successful against older opponents.

The successes have been less than constant, but of late, they are becoming more frequent. Bradley, who went 4-for-11 during the three-game series in Toronto including a game with three extra-base hits on Friday, added two more extra-base knocks in the 7-4 victory over the Rays on Tuesday night. His night began inauspiciously when he led off the third — after the Sox had Rays starter Erik Bedard reeling a bit with a rapidly elevating pitch count — by hitting a foul pop-up to third base for a one-pitch out.

“I’€™d go up there, my stupid self, and swing at the first pitch in my first at-bat. It was a pitch I wanted and I obviously missed it,” said Bradley. “I have to be better than that and smarter and take a few pitches and help the team out.”

The next at-bat, he got ahead, 2-0, then lined a double to the gap in left-center in the fifth inning (setting up the first Sox run) on a 2-1 fastball away from left-hander Bedard. His next trip to the plate, he stayed on an 0-2 changeup from right-hander Juan Oviedo and unloaded on a two-run double to straightaway center in the bottom of the sixth, helping the Sox to break the game open in a five-run inning.

Bradley has boosted his offensive totals to respectability — a .244 average, .344 OBP and .372 slugging mark with 12 runs batted in (thanks to a colossal 11-for-26 performance with runners in scoring position). That performance in the batter’s box has complemented his spectacular, game-changing defense in a fashion that has made the rookie an impactful player for the Sox, and that has helped to cement his everyday role.

“Obviously when you’€™re playing every day it feels good to be able to take your lumps and still get back in there to redeem yourself. That’€™s what I’€™m proud of, what I’€™ve been able to do so far,” said Bradley. “I’€™m definitely gaining more confidence as each day goes on. I’€™m getting comfortable and I’€™m learning pitchers and I’€™m working. I’€™m just trying to get better.’€

He appears to be doing just that, something that carries with it considerable promise for the Red Sox both this season and beyond.

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