The 1-and-0 fastball from Rangers reliever Jason Frasor just barely grazed the strike zone, down and in, the plate umpire was emphatic about his strike call, and it was obvious by the 180-degree hop Jackie Bradley Jr. did in the batter’s box that he didn’t agree with it.
But it wasn’t something he could afford to dwell on.
The Red Sox were in a seven-run hole, but the bases were loaded and they were looking for any signs of a rally.
Bradley let another fastball go by him at the bottom of the strike zone to fall behind, 1-and-2, but he never let the at-bat slip out of his control.
“Just trying to look for pitches that I know I can handle and stay away from pitches that I know I can’t,” Bradley said. “The pitchers made some good pitches. Some of the calls I didn’t get my way, but that’s when you’ve got to stay tough and continue to battle.”
He worked the count full and when Frasor let a belt-high heater dangling on the outside of the of the plate, Bradley made sure he got every ounce of it.
Bradley blasted it off the Wall for a two-run double, and even though the Sox were never able to recover from that big early deficit, Bradley’s 2-for-4, two-RBI night fueled a late Sox rally in a 10-7 loss.
It was also the latest in a string of hot nights at the plate for the 23-year-old outfielder.
After going 6 for 12 in his past three games, Bradley has lifted his average to a team-high .400.
“The last couple nights, he’s staying inside the baseball well,” said manager John Farrell. “He gets a base hit in the left-center field gap [Monday] night, one off the wall tonight.
“I think [it’s] more evident by him not offering at pitches that have been in close to him and tight on him. I think his approach at the plate is much like we saw last spring training and then late in the year last year when he came back to us.”
The irony of the past two spring trainings wasn’t lost on Bradley. A year ago, Bradley hit .419 in the spring but started the season 3 for his first 31. After hitting .158 this spring, it’s been completely the opposite.
“Baseball’s a weird game,” Bradley said. “It’ll tend to do things like that.”
If there’s anything different about his approach, it’s a calculated aggressiveness. He’s still making pitchers pitch to him. (In his past four games, Bradley’s seen 63 pitches.) But his MO has been to jump on pitchers before they can throw him in a hole.
He won’t chase anything. Of the 38 pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone in his past four games, he’s only swung at five. But when he gets a pitch in the zone, he’s going after it. Of the 25 pitches Bradley’s seen in the strike zone, he’s taken cuts at 18 of them and made contact on all.
“Honestly, I’ve actually tried to be more aggressive with pitches that are in the zone,” Bradley said. “Even though sometimes it might not be my pitch, I feel like if maybe I put a good enough swing on it maybe it has a chance of finding a hole.’’
In the ninth inning, with the Sox still looking to rally, Rangers closer Joakim Soria tried to run a 1-and-0 cutter inside on Bradley. It’s something Bradley got used to seeing pitchers do to him last season. But this time, he shot a ground ball to right field for a single.
“Just being prepared for it, knowing certain situations where I feel like they might have an opportunity to come in there, and being ready for it,” Bradley said.
He doesn’t wait for “his” pitch, he said.
“Because up here you might not get your pitch in a whole at-bat,” Bradley said. “So just focusing on putting a good swing on maybe a pitcher’s pitch and not trying to fall too far behind in the count early because pitchers have very good secondary pitches that you don’t want to take chances with.”
Bradley’s gotten comfortable in the nine hole. But the Sox have used three different leadoff hitters in eight games so far this year.
When the idea of making Bradley the fourth was floated out there, Farrell said, “I wouldn’t close the door on it.”
At the same time, the manager said he didn’t see any reason to shake things up just as Bradley was finding a rhythm at the plate.
“Just letting him settle in and get his legs under him,” Farrell said. “He’s doing a good job right now.”
Bradley said he hadn’t given the idea of being the leadoff man much thought.
“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” Bradley said. “It’s one of those things where if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.”