HR boosts Bradley Jr.'s bid to make team

HR boosts Bradley Jr.'s bid to make team
March 24, 2013, 5:30 pm
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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- As John Farrell sat in the visitor's dugout at Bright House Field Sunday morning, it didn't take long for the topic to get around to Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley, whose play has been the talk of spring training, was in the lineup and in left field, starting at that position for the first time this spring. Noting the big crowd expected on the road and the presence of Cliff Lee on the mound, manager John Farrell said the day would serve as a good test for Bradley.
"This,'' said Farrell, "is probably the best environment we could put him in -- on the road, away from our ballpark, going up against a  very good pitcher. This will be a good day for him.''
Sure enough, it was. Bradley launched a three-run homer to left off Lee in the second inning, then added a sacrifice fly in the next inning.
The afternoon added to Bradley's legend. The homer was Bradley's 22nd hit this spring, a number topped by only three American League players going into games Sunday.
"He did a very good job,'' said Farrell of the test against Lee. "You can say all you want about the conditions [a strong wind was blowing out and helped on the homer], but he put a good swing on the ball. I thought he picked a good pitch on the next at-bat for the sac fly.''
"I wanted to put a good swing on early [in the count],'' recalled Bradley of his homer off Lee. "He has a repetroire where he can throw any pitch at any time for a strike, so I definitely didn't want to get behind on him. It feels good. He's a great pitcher and I was just trying to stick my approach and get something good to swing at.''
Bradley said he didn't alter his approach just because he was facing a lefty.
"I try to treat every pitcher the same,'' he said. "They still have to throw the ball across the plate. I don't really want the lefty-lefty thing get in my head.''
Even before Bradley's big day at the plate, Bradley's chances of breaking with the team were improving.
In addition to helping to make up for the two lefty bats that will be out of the lineup at the start of the regular season -- David Ortiz and Stephen Drew -- Bradley's stellar defense can help the Sox with run prevention as they attempt to overcome the loss of offense brought about by the absence of Ortiz and Drew.
"That's all being factored in,'' said Farrell.
Indeed, the starting outfield on Sunday featured three center fielders with Bradley in left, Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Shane Victorino in right.
"I didn't even think about it that way,'' said Victorino. "But yeah it's great to have three guys to go cover ground out there.''
Asked before the game how Bradley had fared to date against elite pitching, Farrell offered an understated quip.
"Well, he hasn't been in a prolonged slump,'' said Farrell. "He's taken a very similar approach [at the plate] regardless of whether it's right-handed or left-handed. His strike zone awareness is very consistent and he's hit some good left-handers.''
Farrell was asked whether he was ever part of a similar situation in which a young player forced his way into the big leagues ahead of schedule with a strong spring.
Without hesitation, Farrell recalled his time with the Cleveland  Indians as the director of player development, citing outfielder Grady Sizemore, who took advantage of a spring injury to Juan Gonzalez in 2004 to make the Indians.
"He was actually optioned out,'' said Farrell, "but the injury opened up a spot on the roster. [And] he was ready.''
Victorino said Bradley has been impressive.
 "I never say it's too early,'' said Victorino. "In this day and age, you've got these 19- and 20-year-olds getting their opportunity and getting the best of it, so, who knows. I don't make that decision. Do I think he's ready? I think he's proven [it].''