Jackie Bradley Jr.’s Struggles Create Balancing Act, Make David Ortiz’s Impending Return More Important for Red Sox

Jackie BradleyThe rookie wall has come early for Jackie Bradley Jr., and the outfielder’s struggles are twofold for the Red Sox.

On one hand, it’ll be much easier for the Red Sox to send Bradley down when David Ortiz returns to the lineup. A demotion may have been in the cards at some point regardless, but it’s much easier for a team to justify sending down someone who’s hitting .120 than it is to explain why some hitting .450 (see Jose Iglesias) is being sent to the minors.

On the other hand, Ortiz’s return likely won’t come for another week or so, which means manager John Farrell has some juggling to do in the meantime.

Bradley is 0-for-14 with three walks and six strikeouts in his last 17 plate appearances entering Saturday’s game, and his season average is down to .120 (3-for-25). Daniel Nava, meanwhile, continues to swing a hot bat, making it a logical move to take Bradley out of the lineup in favor of a Nava-Jonny Gomes combo, especially against left-handers.

The whole situation isn’t as easy as it seems, though.

“It is a balance,” Farrell said before Saturday’s game. “I think going up against a guy like [David] Price or [Wei-Yin] Chen with maybe some of the recent developments with Jackie over the past three or four days, [and] still wanting to put the most competitive lineup we can on the field. And we’re not here to say that there’s roster changes that are going to take place just because Jackie’s not playing for the second time in four days [on Saturday]. That’s not what we’re here about, but we’ll continue to find the right combinations, and that would include Jackie in different scenarios as well.”

The problem with having Bradley bounce around is that it’s rather counterintuitive to his development. The Red Sox made it clear during spring training that Bradley would make the major league roster only as an everyday player, and that was the case out of the gate. Now that Bradley is struggling and Nava is on a tear, though, Farrell has no choice but to ride the hot hand while the rookie rides the pine, perhaps to his detriment.

Farrell said he thinks Bradley had a “direct impact” on “two, possibly three,” of the Red Sox’ five wins. And to Bradley’s credit, he’s played solid defense while patrolling left field for Boston. But while watching the offensive struggles, it’s clear he could use some time down in Triple-A, where he’ll be plugged into the lineup daily.

There will be no juggling and no pinch-hitting, and Bradley’s at-bats will come much more consistently. Rather than being taken out against left-handers, Bradley will have the opportunity to face southpaws, thus enabling him to further develop his offensive game. That’s what’s important in the long run.

It’s hard to fault the Red Sox for rolling the dice on Bradley to begin the season. It was a difficult decision, but it was ultimately one that had to be made. The decision to send Bradley back down to the farm should be a much easier one to make, although it won’t be before another week or so of balancing Bradley’s development with team needs.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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