His night at the plate began and ended with strikeouts, swinging at curveballs, which have become the bane of his season. Both strikeouts came with runners on base.
But in between those ignominous bookends, Jackie Bradley Jr. demonstrated why the Red Sox regard the rookie so highly.
The centerpiece of his night, key to the Red Sox’ 5-2 win over the Indians on Thursday at Fenway Park, was the inning-ending double play he engineered in the seventh. With one out, the Sox up by three, and Mike Aviles on first, Michael Bourn drove a Jon Lester fastball to the warning track in left-center.
Bradley, who was shaded to left, initially broke in for the ball, before correcting his read.
He caught the ball as he made contact with the wall. With Aviles already around second base, Bradley turned and fired a one-hopper to first baseman Mike Napoli, who stepped on the bag ahead of the sprinting Aviles to end the inning.
“At first I thought [Bourn] got jammed,” Bradley said. “So I started kind of breaking in a little bit, and then realized it wasn’t going to fall in front of me. So I sprinted back. I knew it was going to be another close-to-the-wall type play. But I didn’t think that I had too much to worry about. I pretty much counted my steps before going up for it.
“So I just made the catch and tried to make a strong throw back to first.”
“It was a big play in the game,” Napoli said. “To run down that ball and have a double play end that inning, it gives Jon a [chance] to go out there again and start another inning. So it’s a big play in the game.
“It’s a heckuva play. He has a strong arm.”
Bradley, who had a similar play against the Rays on May 31, when he came away with a bloody nose as the ball caromed off the wall, wasn’t sure he’d get the ball to Napoli in time to complete the double play.
“Honestly, in the heat of the moment you don’t really think about it,” he said. “You just go for it. That’s the type of player I am.”
It was his sixth outfield assist this season, the most by a Sox rookie since Bob Zupcic’s 11 in 1992.
“I really pride myself in having a strong arm,” Bradley said. “I work on it daily and do a lot of long toss. So I’m willing to throw with the best of them.
“[Defense is] very important. To be able to make the plays behind the pitchers, especially when they’re having great performances like Lester did tonight, it’s very helpful to know that he has a strong defense behind him.”
It hasn’t been an easy season for Bradley. He has been a lightning rod on an underperforming team, batting just .203 with a .290 on-base percentage and .292 slugging percentage. He is striking out in 35 percent of his at-bats (67 of 192). He tries to keep his offense from affecting his defense.
“It’s two sides of the ball,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to separate them, get the job done. If you’re not getting it done on offense, then definitely need to be getting it done on defense.”
Bradley went 1 for 3 with two runs, a walk, and a stolen base, his fifth of the season to tie for the team lead.
Bradley led off the fifth with a first-pitch single, taking second on a throwing error by Indians starter Josh Tomlin on a pickoff attempt. He took third on Brock Holt’s ground out and scored on David Ortiz’s home run.
Facing lefthander Nick Hagadone in the sixth, Bradley followed Jonathan Herrera’s two-out triple with a four-pitch walk. He then stole second and scored on Holt’s double that gave the Sox a 5-2 lead.
“Early on he comes up in a key spot where we come away with nothing to show for it,” said manager John Farrell. “But second time up he picks out a first-pitch fastball that he’s able to get the bat head out for the base hit. But I think for me the biggest at-bat was the base on balls, even though Hagadone was a little bit erratic. [Bradley] didn’t chase, he stayed patient, and built a key at-bat inside that inning.”
A game like Thursday’s can help a struggling rookie’s confidence.
“Yes, it’s a plus” Bradley said. “Obviously, you want to be able to help out on both sides of the ball every night. It’s one of those grinds. You’ve just got to keep going. The ups and downs, keep playing, having fun.
“I’m going to come in here every single day, working, and knowing that the past is the past and I’m going to do whatever I can do to help the team out today. And I think if you focus mainly on that, then you don’t really get too far down and you don’t get too far up.”