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Alex Speier | Instant Analysis

Another show of force for Red Sox’ talented outfield

Jackie Bradley Jr. pulled in a long fly ball hit by Francisco Cervelli in the fourth inning.John Tlumacki/Globe staff

In case anyone needed a reminder about why the Red Sox’ outfield is considered as talented as any in the big leagues, a 5-3 Opening Day rout over the Pirates offered it.

Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi delivered the highlights of a five-run fifth inning in a demonstration of the rare electricity that they, along with 2016 AL MVP runner-up Mookie Betts, can generate.

Here are the key elements from the Red Sox’ season-opening victory:

ANDREW BENINTENDI REMAINS ON THE FAST TRACK: Andrew Benintendi actually betrayed a hint of emotion on Opening Day, but he could be forgiven a small fist pump after blasting a 98 m.p.h. fastball from Pirates starter Gerrit Cole into the Pirates’ bullpen for a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning. At 22 years, 271 days, Benintendi became the fourth youngest Red Sox of the last 100 years to go deep on Opening Day.

When one layers that mark of distinction on top of the fact that Benintendi became the youngest Red Sox ever to homer in the playoffs last year, it takes little imagination to realize why the 2015 first-rounder is so highly regarded as a hitter.


JACKIE BRADLEY JR. SHIFTS THE SCALES: In the top of the fourth inning, when Rick Porcello’s command lapsed, Bradley prevented the stumble from costing his team any runs. He tracked down a ball drilled into the left-center gap by David Freese at 106 m.p.h., then perfectly timed a 104 m.p.h. Francisco Cervelli liner against the Red Sox’ bullpen wall in the triangle, 390 feet from the plate – a brilliant catch that few even attempt given the potential for significant injury when trapping a wrist against the wall.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hauls in a long fly ball hit by Francisco Cervelli.John Tlumacki/Globe staff

Then, at a time when Cole was cruising through the Red Sox order, Bradley turned on a 97 m.p.h. fastball and drilled it off the base of the grandstand wall in right field for a triple. The ball had an exit velocity of 111 m.p.h. – the highest exit velocity of any ball Bradley had put in play since the introduction of Statcast data in 2015.


In 2014, Bradley seemed overwhelmed by mid- to upper-90s velocity. That is no longer the case. Instead, his comfort hunting – and driving – fastballs has turned him into a difference-making two-way talent.

SANDOVAL’S REDEMPTION TOUR GETS OFF TO A SOLID START: Pablo Sandoval swung at everything he saw, hacking at four of five offerings he saw from Cole in his first two plate appearances (the exception was a pitch on which Sandoval had to bail out, a fastball near his head) and then five of the nine pitches he saw from a pair of Pittsburgh relievers.

Nonetheless, Sandoval’s free swinging occurred to positive effect, as he golfed a curveball that was inside to the opposite field in left-center for a warning track flyout. In the pivotal fifth inning, Sandoval beat out an infield single on a grounder he shot into the hole at short to put the Red Sox ahead, 1-0.

Pablo Sandoval had a single in the fifth inning.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

His ability to move well down the first base line – and later that inning to score easily from second on a Dustin Pedroia single – attested to some of the improved conditioning and agility that the third baseman worked to attain this winter. (Sandoval scored from second on a single on just three of 11 occasions in 2015, when Fangraphs pegged him as one of the worst dozen qualifying baserunners in the majors.)


Sandoval did commit an error and struck out twice in his 1-for-4 day, but the image of his hustle nonetheless offered, if not a positive statement, then at least a first phrase of 2017.

RICK PORCELLO DIDN’T FORGET HOW TO PITCH: In a familiar performance, the reigning American League Cy Young winner attacked the strike zone (62 of 96 pitches for strikes – 65 percent) with a diverse array of pitches to unbalance the Pirates over 6 1/3 innings in which he allowed three runs, walked one, and struck out five. Porcello actually carried a shutout through six innings before he appeared to start missing his spots in the seventh, when two of the three runs he permitted were of the inherited variety when Matt Barnes gave up a single, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly.

Rick Porcello pitched into the seventh inning.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/Boston Globe

THE RED SOX’ MIX-AND-MATCH BULLPEN REMAINS A WORK IN PROGRESS: Red Sox manager John Farrell acknowledged before Monday’s game that he lacked a singular, lockdown, eighth-inning presence. As such, Farrell said, he’d likely navigate through the late innings with a mix-and-match approach – one in which he suggested that Heath Hembree and Barnes might prove his righthanders of first resort (meaning a slip for Joe Kelly on the depth chart) with Robby Scott and Fernando Abad looming as his initial options against lefties (a statement in which Robbie Ross Jr. seemed prominent by omission). While the Sox ultimately preserved a victory, the fact that two inherited runners crossed the plate with Barnes on the mound will do little to quell the sense of uncertainty about the state of the team’s relief corps while Tyler Thornburg is on the disabled list. That said, Scott (1 out) and Hembree (2 outs) effectively split the eighth inning in front of closer Craig Kimbrel.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@alexspeier.