Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Bradley seems like he's here to stay
As the Red Sox readied Friday afternoon for the second installment of a four-game series with the Yankees, there were two particularly noteworthy sights on display in the Bronx — especially with some roster questions soon to arise in its overcrowded outfield.
The first was the sight of Shane Victorino among those taking early batting practice, an indication that he has begun baseball activities in his recovery from a hamstring strain that landed him on the disabled list ahead of the team's March 31 opener. It suggests that while the right fielder still isn't expected back when he's immediately eligible, he may not be out much beyond that.
And that brings us to the second sight of note, which was Jackie Bradley Jr.'s name on the Boston lineup card. Playing center field. Against CC Sabathia, a left-handed pitcher.
It could truly be that manager John Farrell was simply trying to capitalize on a strong stretch from the rookie who'd reached base in 10 of his previous 20 plate appearances, including six hits and a walk. It could also be that with the dimensions of Yankee Stadium he wanted both Bradley and Grady Sizemore in his outfield for defensive purposes. And maybe those two factors were enough to convince Farrell to overlook Bradley's .118 average and .250 on-base percentage in 40 career tries against big-league lefties.
Whatever the reason, or reasons, the sights of Victorino swinging and Bradley in center are a signal from the Red Sox that unless the so-called problem solves itself here in the next 10 days or so — meaning another injury arises — the original plan appears to be out the window. And instead of Bradley going back to Pawtucket for seasoning, as he was supposed to just a couple weeks ago, it now looks more likely that the club will move one of its veterans to make room for the 23-year-old who has precipitated such a play by earning his place in the majors thus far.
Victorino, a hero of the 2013 postseason who's still owed close to $26 million, would appear safe. As the only true righty among Boston's array of outfielders, Jonny Gomes would, too. Sizemore remains intriguing enough to retain, having shown glimpses of his former self while staying sufficiently healthy. Daniel Nava has struggled to this point, but through Thursday he was hitting .160 on balls in play, so his .139 average overall was somewhat deceiving. On top of that there's value in the versatility of a switch-hitter who can play left, right or first base. Plus, he ranked among the AL's top 10 last season in both average and OBP. He deserves more of a leash.
So, then, the decision would seem to be between Bradley and Mike Carp – the lefty swinger who posted an .885 on-base plus slugging in 86 games a year ago, and has shown an ability to hit both righties and lefties over the course of his career.
Strictly as a hitter, the case could be made that Carp would help the Red Sox offense more than Sizemore or Bradley in 2014. But, as he reminded the Fenway faithful in the home opener, he is a defensive liability that Farrell doesn't trust in the late innings (when depth matters most), so when considering the sum of the parts he is the Sox's most expendable asset.
He's too good to be designated for assignment, or given away for nothing, and thus if Ben Cherington needs to buy time to find a trade partner who'll take Carp, he should. Perhaps gives Victorino a bit more time to heal. Maybe, as mentioned earlier, things take care of themselves.
But whatever the solution, it shouldn't come at Bradley's expense. He is part of this team's future, and he's finding his way. Before leaving for New York, he said he was seeing the ball well, and it was clear his confidence was building — in him and in his manager, too.
"He's staying inside the ball well … not offering at pitches that have been close to him, in tight on him," Farrell said. "His approach at the plate is much like we saw last spring training, and then late in the year when he came back to us."
This year there should be no need to come back – because for the foreseeable future Bradley should stay just where Sox fans could see him Friday night. In the majors. In the lineup. In center field.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.