FORT MYERS, Fla. — So how does this all feel if you are Jackie Bradley Jr.? What’s it like when you are old news, under the radar, and suddenly almost invisible at the age of 23?
“I’m good,’’ Bradley said Wednesday morning, standing in front of his locker at JetBlue Park hours before starting in right field against the Baltimore Orioles.
“It’s all right. I’ve got no complaints. I’m the same guy — even going through adversity like I am right now.’’
Everybody knows the situation. Jacoby Ellsbury went to New York for a big bag of money. JBJ was anointed the new Sox center fielder. The Sox went on record and said they were comfortable turning over the position to him. It was going to be Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Jackie Bradley in center. The dawn of the rookies.
And then general manager Ben Cherington signed three-time All-Star Grady Sizemore, a 31-year-old former MVP candidate who hadn’t played in a baseball game since September of 2011 because of seven surgeries.
Sizemore was the longest of long shots. But he has played and played well. He hit his first home run of the spring Tuesday at Port Charlotte. Wednesday against the Orioles, he played all nine innings, going 1 for 3 with a walk.
He also ran the bases aggressively and made a great catch on a sinking liner hit by Quintin Berry (remember him?) in the second inning. He’s batting .306 with only four strikeouts in 36 at-bats. Bradley is struggling along at .167 with a whopping 17 strikeouts in 54 at-bats.
Sox Nation is ready to turn the job over to Sizemore. He is the rage of camp the same way Bradley was All That in the spring of 2013 when he hit .419 with 12 RBIs and seven extra-base hits in Florida. We wanted to rename JetBlue Park after Bradley.
Sox manager John Farrell has stated that it’s an either/or situation. The Sox do not plan to have both players on the big league roster when camp breaks this weekend. They are taking one or the other to Baltimore for Opening Day Monday. The loser of this competition will be asked to start the season in Pawtucket.
Sizemore is quiet and humble. He won’t say much about how all of this feels. But what would it be like for Bradley to start the season in Pawtucket — after winning a starting job in the spring of 2013, after being anointed the starting center fielder when Ellsbury signed with the Yankees?
“I’ve played in Pawtucket before,’’ Bradley said. “I’ll still be playing baseball. I’ll be glad to be able to be doing that.’’
Bradley hit only .189 in 37 big league games last year, but he doesn’t panic. And he always can help the team with his glove and speed in the outfield.
“Jackie’s arm is better than average and he gets some of the best jumps and reads in the game,’’ said Farrell. “He is a very good defender.’’
That’s one of the reasons why this decision is so hard for the Red Sox. They are experimenting this week to see if Sizemore can play every day. They do not want to commit to Sizemore, then have to move Shane Victorino, or worse, Daniel Nava, to center on days that Sizemore can’t play.
That’s why the decision is going down to the wire. Farrell said most of the Sox players to be cut would be told Thursday, adding, “Center field might take another day.’’
Is this awkward? Bradley was asked.
“No,’’ he answered. “I was in the same situation last year.’’
And his awful offensive numbers?
“That’s why it’s spring training,’’ he said. “The results aren’t really indicative of anything.’’
He knows what it’s like to be Sizemore, to be the flavor of the day.
“I did that same thing last year,’’ Bradley said. “It’s no pressure for me. I’m just going out there playing the game and hopefully this will be the same thing, in a way, as last year. Hot spring training, slow start. Now slow spring training, hot start.’’
Any information from the top? Does he know what they are thinking?
“Y’all know more than I do,’’ said Bradley. “I don’t know what the options are. I just know they have a decision to make. Today is just another day preparing for the season.’’
After the loss to the Orioles, Farrell was asked if he felt Bradley was pressing at the plate.
“I don’t know if he’s pressing,’’ answered the manager. “He’s a smart guy. He knows exactly the situation he’s in.
“It’s a 180-degree turn from a year ago. He had the stellar spring training. Now he comes into a different set of circumstances. In the end, good players are going to drive the competition.’’
With only three spring games remaining, it looks as though the competition is driving Bradley down Route 95 to Pawtucket.