BOSTON — Sometimes, you need to take a step back before you can move forward. The Red Sox are hoping that’s the case with outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park, said after the game he feels “lost” at the plate. Red Sox manager John Farrell caught wind of the comment and wisely decided to hold Bradley out of Saturday’s starting lineup in the hopes of giving his young outfielder a mental break, if nothing else.
“I think any time a player speaks that candidly about what he’s feeling, I think there’s an opportunity to give him a little bit of a breather and take a game in and kind of just catch his breath, so to speak,” Farrell said before Saturday’s game. “It’s not uncommon for players to go through the peaks and valleys we’ve seen. But this is someone, in my view, I felt like throughout April was making some strides with his approach, and yet in this month, things have kind of turned a little bit.”
Bradley never has lacked confidence despite sputtering at the major league level on multiple occasions. The 24-year-old typically is a player who looks toward brighter days rather than dwelling on the past, and he never seems to carry his offensive struggles into the field, where he continues to thrive defensively. However, Bradley’s postgame comments Friday suggest his recent struggles at the dish are beginning to weigh on him. Thus, it was important for Farrell to take a proactive approach, as Bradley remains an integral part of the Red Sox’s present and future.
“We’re not down on his abilities, but I think we’ve got to recognize when some of that confidence gets a little bit shallow, we’ve got to give it a chance to rebuild,” Farrell said.
Bradley’s season appeared to be headed in the right direction toward the end of April. He supplemented his steady defense with an uptick in offensive production, and it looked after the Red Sox’s series in Toronto that he was on the verge of becoming an impact player.
Things since have gone awry for Bradley, who enters Saturday’s action hitting .200 with a .301 on-base percentage and 42 strikeouts in 39 games. Bradley is hitting .128 (6-for-47) with one RBI, a .226 on-base percentage and 17 strikeouts in 14 games this month — including 0-for-11 with five strikeouts over his last three contests. He looks “lost” as much as he apparently feels it.
So, what gives? How does one explain Bradley — a former first-round pick with a career .404 on-base percentage in the minors — stumbling his way to a .195 average, .292 on-base percentage and 73 strikeouts through his first 76 games at the big league level?
“If you’re looking at on-base (percentage), and you’re looking at strikeout totals, there’s going to be a little bit of pullback when they come to this level, assuming that everything else stays the same,” Farrell reasoned. “For instance, if a guy’s confidence is down, does he then begin to try a little harder? Does he try to hit for power a little bit more? Does the swing become a little bit longer? Those are all possibilities, and I think right now Jackie might be pressing a little bit, and we’re seeing a little bit more length to the swing than we saw earlier in the season.”
The Red Sox are hopeful a quick breather will serve Bradley well. His outfield defense remains an asset, but his offensive struggles are concerning when they’re attached to a weakening confidence level.