DUNEDIN, Fla. — John Farrell did his best Bill Parcells impersonation when he said the Red Sox “reserved the right to change our minds” on playing Jackie Bradley in left field after indicating they would keep him in center field.
Bradley moved from center to left in the seventh inning of Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Blue Jays. He made an excellent relay to the cutoff man and also fielded two tough fly balls, one against the railing and another near the wall.
Farrell had said repeatedly this spring that Bradley was not going to play left field, an indication that Bradley was likely headed back to the minor leagues. When asked if anything should be read into Friday’s move, Farrell said, “I wouldn’t read anything into it other than getting him some exposure in left field in the event that certain things fall a given way, we want to be sure to cover all of our bases.”
When asked about the change of heart, Farrell said, “We reserve the right to change our minds and our plans. That’s where he was at today.”
It was the first time Bradley had played left field as a professional. He said he played left in high school as a freshman.
“Well, it felt different, that’s for sure,” Bradley said. “I hadn’t played there in a while. But overall, I felt good.”
Asked whether Bradley would see more action in left, Farrell said, “Yet to be seen, because what’s going to happen tomorrow and Sunday is our regulars are going to go back-to-back at home and then up in Clearwater; Monday at Sarasota might present a different opportunity for him to get back into left field. But we’ll take this final week and get some additional exposure there.”
Bradley is expected to be the heir apparent in center field if Jacoby Ellsbury, a free agent after the season, isn’t re-signed. If Ellsbury returns, Bradley could see a lot more time in left.
“It was good,” Bradley said of his high school experience in left. “I got to rob a few home runs. Got shorter distance to the wall. But I enjoyed it.”
Bradley was tested right away Friday.
The Blue Jays’ first batter of the seventh, Adam Lind, sent a fly ball to left that Bradley had to move to his left to catch. In the eighth, Bradley made a nice catch in foul territory for the first out. And after third baseman Drew Sutton erred on Kevin Pillar’s ground ball, Bradley dug the ball out of the corner and fired a perfect throw to shortstop Jonathan Diaz, who fired home to cut down a runner for the final out.
“The ball’s always going to find you,” said Bradley. “So [I was] just trying to do my best center-field impersonation out there in left field. But I pretty much know balls hit are going to go toward the line. So I felt pretty comfortable.”
On the ball hit into the corner, Bradley said, “It was a long run. But it felt good. I just wanted to not try to do too much, get to it, plant my feet and make a strong throw to the cutoff man, and then after that it’s out of my hands.”
Bradley said he was not told in advance he would be shifting to left.
“No, they just asked me to go out there. I just figured I’ve been playing a lot of innings. So I think they’ll give me a shorter run out there to left field to give me a little break,” he said.
Bradley had one of Boston’s two hits in the game, a double off of lefthanded starter J.A. Happ in the first inning. He’s hitting .429 this spring and is tied for the team lead in at-bats with 49.
The Red Sox learned from Ellsbury in 2010 that center fielders usually prefer not to be moved. But Bradley claims he would play anywhere if it meant playing in the majors.
“Whatever position in the outfield they want me to play I’m willing to do,” Bradley said. “I’m an outfielder, I just play in center field mostly. But I’m up for any different position and I just want to play baseball.”
Asked what it would mean to make the Opening Day roster, Bradley said, “Special. Everyone works hard to try to get there. It would be something I’ve always worked for. Anything’s possible.”
But he said he wouldn’t be disappointed if he was sent back to the minors.
“I come into spring training with not even a thought to even make the team. So, I didn’t really set any expectations coming in,” Bradley said. “I just want to come in here, play hard, and know that I gave it everything I had and build on that.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.