BOSTON — Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. officially introduced the baseball world to his rocket arm Thursday at Fenway Park.
Bradley raced back into the left-center field gap in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians to make a running catch that robbed Michael Bourn of extra bases. The 24-year-old then turned and fired a frozen rope to first base to double-up Mike Aviles, who actually needed to retouch second base before retreating to the bag he was stationed at because he evidently was confident Bourn’s gap shot was going to land between Bradley and left fielder Daniel Nava.
“At first I thought (Bourn) got jammed, I started breaking in a little bit and then realized it wasn’t going to fall in front of me so I sprinted back,” Bradley said after Thursday’s win. “I pretty much counted my steps before going out for it, then I kind of figured once you make an initial read and the baserunner sees that it’s the opposite, I knew Mike was going to pretty much keep going. I made the catch and tried to make a strong throw back to first.”
Bradley delivered a strong throw indeed. It’s one many scouts perhaps envisioned in 2008 when the Prince George High School (Prince George, Va.) product tied a record with an impressive outfield toss during a Perfect Game pre-draft showcase.
“He has an incredibly fast arm, and no one will want to run on him at the next level,” a Perfect Game report from May 14, 2008 reads.
Aviles learned his lesson Thursday night.
“I thought about throwing to (second baseman/cutoff man Dustin Pedroia), but I figured that he’s pretty far off the base. I’ll let the big dog eat,” Bradley recounted.
Bradley’s stellar defense has been lauded all season. But it’s his excellent range and route-running ability that typically have been the focal points of such praise. While Bradley leads Boston’s outfielders and all rookies with six assists, Thursday marked his first real opportunity to show off the laser attached to his upper body.
“I thought he was going to try to hit the cutoff,” Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli told WEEI.com. “I know he has a good arm, and he can reach me, but for me, I’m always just reading the throw no matter what, so when I saw the height of the ball, I made the reaction to it.”
Outfielder Shane Victorino, who currently is sidelined with a hamstring injury, likened Bradley’s toss to the jaw-dropping throws made this week by Oakland Athletics left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, whose arm has garnered national attention.
“I don’t think he’s going to get the credit that Cespedes got that night, and we’ll see where it goes, but I think that’s the part, that was an unbelievable play,” Victorino told WEEI.com after Thursday’s game. “I don’t know how far that throw was, MLB Network is going to find the measurements and how far it was, but I think that was just as equally impressive as the Cespedes throw.”
Bradley’s strong arm obviously is a gift. It’s made stronger by the work he, Victorino and other Red Sox outfielders put in on a daily basis.
“We go out there and work on it,” Victorino told WEEI.com. “(Pitcher Chris Capuano) was teasing me because him and I were throwing (Wednesday) in Baltimore, and him and I were throwing from the left field line, and he was standing out by the warning track in right field and Capuano goes, ‘I was pretty impressed by what you guys were doing yesterday, but I was more impressed by what Jackie was doing, not you’ — jokingly.”
For the Red Sox, Bradley’s arm might be the gift that keeps on giving.