PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Even as Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggles as a rookie assumed historic dimensions, the outfielder had resisted dwelling on whether he might get sent down to Triple-A. After all, he reasoned, there was nothing productive to be gained from doing so, at a time when the most important thing he could try to do was correct course.
And so, when the conversation with manager John Farrell and GM Ben Cherington finally took place following the Red Sox‘ 8-1 loss to the Astros on Sunday, Bradley was caught a bit by surprise. With just two weeks left before rosters expand from 25 to 40 players, Bradley hadn’t anticipated that he would be sent down now, even though (after going 5-for-16 to snap out of an 0-for-35 slump) he was hitting .216 with a .288 OBP and .290 slugging mark in 112 games.
“I didn’t know. I was definitely caught off surprise a little bit, especially with it being two weeks left. But you know, move had to be made. I’m down here, getting better,” Bradley said in the PawSox clubhouse. “I’ve got to be accountable for myself and for the season, and I didn’t perform at the level that I feel like I’m capable of performing. Like they told me, it’s a performance-based league.”
Bradley said that he has been feeling like he’s been in a good rhythm at the plate recently, with “comfortable” timing.
“I’m swinging the bat the way I like to,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged that he needs to do a better job of making more consistent contact (his 28.7 percent strikeout rate is among the worst in the majors) to put himself in a better position to post the sort of offensive numbers that will be necessary to maintain a spot in the big leagues.
“It’s definitely different. It’s frustrating because I do feel like I’m putting good swings and not making contact,” said Bradley. “I think it’s just over time it will change. Obviously your strikeouts are going to go up once you get there, but I obviously don’t want it to be to where it has been. I’m working on improving that.”
Now, he will focus on improving on that particular aspect of his offensive approach in Triple-A, with the Red Sox electing to give the 24-year-old an opportunity to catch his breath in Pawtucket in the coming weeks, with the possibility of a September call-up looming for a player whose defense in center field had been little short of outrageous.
Bradley expressed understanding for why the organization decided to send him to Triple-A, and suggested that his disappointment was not with the decision that the team made but instead with the performance that led it to do so.
“I wasn’t disappointed — not disappointed in the sense of going down,” said Bradley. “I was just disappointed in myself, not necessarily about the move, because if you play better, then they won’t send you down. It’s one of those things where, you get the news and you just move on. That’s what I was able to do, move on and then get back to playing ball.”
Bradley described this prolonged struggle as novel, something that he’s never before faced at any phase of his baseball career. He was a decorated college player who dominated in the minors in 2012 and was the best player for extended stretches of the 2013 season in Pawtucket.
Despite the fact that he now finds himself in an unfamiliar situation, however, Bradley suggested that he is unbowed by the fact that his struggles have cost him, for now, the job that he secured in April.
“My confidence will never waver as long as I’ve got a breath in my body,” said Bradley. “Talent is talent. You see the numbers, they don’t necessarily reflect talent. There’s talent all throughout the minor leagues that can play in the major leagues. It’s all about refining your talent and making the best and bringing out the best of your talents, being able to use it to the best of your abilities.
“This is pretty much the first time that I’ve really had to go through a true struggle in my baseball career,” he added. “But you’ve got to keep persevering and keep playing. It’s far from over. I’ve just got to keep playing and enjoying myself and having fun.”