Sprinting down the first base line after his fourth-inning grounder toward left field, Jackie Bradley Jr. was surprised that shortstop J.J. Hardy was able to make a play. But Hardy, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, collected the ball on the backhand, spun, and threw to first base.
“He’s a great infielder, and once I saw him catch it I knew that I had to continue the full, hard 90 [feet],” Bradley said.
Hardy made the tough throw across his body, but it wasn’t quite in time. As Bradley crossed first base and umpire Mike Everitt signaled safe, Bradley had his first hit since last September, snapping an 0-for-30 stretch.
Bradley added a sharp leadoff single to right field in the ninth inning to finish 2 for 4 in his first day back in the bigs. He batted ninth and started in right field in Boston’s 8-6 loss to Baltimore.
“It felt good to be able to get hits,” Bradley said. “Any way you can get hits is always a plus.”
After Hanley Ramirez (hand) and Dustin Pedroia (hamstring) were injured during Wednesday night’s game, Bradley was one of three Thursday call-ups (along with infielder Deven Marrero and righthander Jonathan Aro) from Pawtucket.
Bradley was the only one of the three with major league experience. But his last major league hit was Sept. 14. Bradley was on an 0-for-12 stretch this season.
The dry spell wasn’t on Bradley’s mind though.
“I’m glad you know that,” Bradley said when asked about it. “But I just play for today. I don’t really focus on the past. So it feels good to try to help the team as much as I can.”
In Pawtucket, Bradley was on a tear. In 51 games, he was hitting .322 with four home runs and 16 RBIs. His batting average and on-base percentage of .398 ranked second in the International League.
“I’d like to see him come to us and continue the production he’s been showing at Triple A,” manager John Farrell said before the game. “It’s been an up-and-down situation with Jackie here for us. The defense is premium, the offensive consistency, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Bradley was an American League Gold Glove Award finalist in center field last year. On Thursday, Bradley showed off his cannon of an arm.
The Orioles had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the ninth after an error by first baseman Mike Napoli put David Lough on, Chris Davis walked, and Hardy singled to right field.
The next batter, Steve Pearce, flied a ball in Bradley’s direction. He caught it and coiled for a strike to catcher Blake Swihart. The throw was right on target and Swihart tagged Lough at home to end the inning.
According to the Red Sox, it was Bradley’s ninth double play from the outfield since the start of the 2014 season and, entering play Thursday, no other outfielder had more than six.
“It was one of those plays where it’s hit in front of you, so you’re able to build some momentum,” Bradley said. “And I got behind the ball and just tried to make an accurate throw to [home] plate as quick as I could get it to him to allow him to make the tag.”
Despite what he can do with the glove, he entered play Thursday having hit .192 in 170 major league games dating to 2013.
The Sox would like to see more games like Thursday’s out of Bradley.
“Hopefully this is a chance to jump start some confidence and feel like he belongs,” Farrell said.Wayne Epps Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wayneeppsjr.