PAWTUCKET, R.I. – When players are sent to the minor leagues from the majors, they usually get at least a day off to settle back in.
Boston sent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. to Triple-A on Monday. Before arriving, Bradley was on the phone with Pawtucket Manager Kevin Boles.
“He said ‘I’m coming in. I want to play.’ That’s a credit to him,” Boles said.
Bradley was not thrilled with the demotion – “you have no control. Two weeks left (in the Pawtucket season). Whatever.” – but he is hardly pouting.
“You have to keep grinding,” he said.
Boston needs Bradley to keep grinding, while also learning and, eventually, improving.
And Bradley is not the only one.
Bradley joined Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks as new players in the Red Sox lineup this year. In spring training, Boston Manager John Farrell said it’s normal for a team to incorporate no more than two rookies into a lineup. He was hopeful Boston’s three newbies (he considered Middlebrooks a rookie because of his sporadic playing time) had the talent to adjust to a full major league season.
Entering Tuesday’s games, Bogaerts was batting .236, with a .632 OPS. Middlebrooks was at .183/.550
Before going down, Bradley was hitting .216/.612.
Middlebrooks, 25, has been injured, serving two stints on the disabled list. He played 29 rehab games in Pawtucket (batting only .231) before being activated again Aug. 1. Middlebrooks has a lot of proving to do, but his power potential has Boston patient – for now.
Bogaerts, 21, still is considered one of the best talents in the game.
“Frankly, we did not expect him to go through struggles to this extent,” General Manager Ben Cherington told reporters at Fenway Park on Tuesday, “because we’ve seen him be so good.”
Cherington said Bogaerts can work out his difficulties in the majors, but sent Bradley down to regroup.
There are two reasons for Bradley’s demotion:
1) Bradley’s slumping ways were getting worse. He was batting .143 in August. He has played only 80 games in Triple-A (all last year) and was not making adjustments needed to stay in the majors.
2) Mookie Betts. While Bradley may be an elite center fielder and Betts is a converted infielder, Betts has been dominant offensively in the minors. The Red Sox want to see Betts for a substantial amount of time with Boston, to see if his bat holds up, and if his defense in center is good enough.
While Bradley is an absolute joy to watch in center field, the Red Sox problem has been its offense – last in the American League in runs scored.
Bradley broke out in the minors in 2012, batting .359 for Class A Salem, before earning a promotion to Portland on June 21. For the first month, Bradley batted .308. A leg injury hampered him and Bradley finished with a .271 average (.809 OPS).
Injured part of last year, Bradley batted .275 in 80 games for Pawtucket, with an impressive .840 OPS.
“We still think very highly of his ability,” said Boles, who managed Bradley in Portland. “And he has a track record. We can’t forget that.
“Knowing him, what type of athlete he is and the work habits he has, I really believe he will make that adjustment (to the majors).”
Bradley seems sure of it.
“Who cares what the numbers say? I know the talent that I have. It will all work itself out,” he said. “At the end of the day, your talent will take over. Your competitive nature will take over.”
But what will it take to force Bradley’s talent to break through? The only answer is to provide playing time and see if Bradley’s production can match his confidence.
“There’s no magic formula. No secret,” he said. “It’s being ready to play every single day and letting things fall where they may.”
For now, Bradley has fallen back to the minors. He will likely be back in September when major league rosters are expanded.
As for 2015, that will be up to Bradley. If he can hit more consistently, Boston will welcome him (and his glove) back to Fenway Park. And trips, like this week’s drive down to Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium, will become a distant memory.