Thursday night’s Red Sox game was a quick one, thanks mostly to Chris Sale. Afterward, many of the players rushed out the clubhouse so they could get the most out of what remained of the evening.
But Jackie Bradley Jr. stayed a while and was glued to the computer monitors in the team’s video room. He put in even more work Friday, partaking in optional batting practice before the game against the Angels.
Bradley is streaky at the plate, though his defense doesn’t suffer. Offensively, he’ll be hot for a month, then go into one of his funks. The latter is playing out now. In his last 13 games entering Friday, Bradley was just 8 for 46 (.174), including hitless in his last 13 at-bats.
“I feel like I have to square up some balls,” Bradley said before Friday’s game. “I feel like the more you square it up, the better. I just need to make sure when I get my pitch, don’t miss it. I’ve been fouling them off. I’ve been fouling off a lot of pitches I can handle.”
For the second half of the season, Bradley has had a ground ball percentage of 50.8 (before Friday’s game).
“Obviously, he’s regressed since the All-Star break,” manager Alex Cora said. “Everybody knows that when he’s hitting the ball the other way he becomes very dangerous, but when he’s pulling the ball on the ground it’s the other way around.”
Bradley worked with J.D. Martinez’s personal hitting coach, Craig Wallenbrock, in Los Angeles in the offseason. Part of their focus involved getting on plane with the ball in a launch position. It excited Cora, but he acknowledged it’s been a process.
“Talking to J.D., sometimes you go from one extreme to the other one and sometimes you have to get back to the middle,” Cora said. “Sometimes it takes a while to go from that end [launch angle] to where we want to go.”
Bradley grounded to second in his first at-bat of the team’s 16-4 win against the Angels Friday, stretching his hitless streak to 14 at-bats. But he singled to left in his second plate appearance in the fifth, which set the stage for a Mookie Betts two-run homer.
“I’m never one to think one swing can fix everything,” Bradley said. “But it could always be a start.”
Airing it out
Many teams have caught on to baseball’s latest trend of hitting the ball in the air. It’s seemingly eliminated many sinker-ball pitchers, and to combat the launch, teams are pitching higher in the zone.
Like most sports, baseball is a copycat league. For example, the Rays, Athletics, and Brewers employed “openers” or bullpen games last season, so starters wouldn’t see a batter a third time through the order. It was considered out of the box, but now you’re starting to see more teams employ that strategy.
But as it relates to launch angle, Cora said you have to be careful. It might not work for every player.
“I think a lot of players are taking that to the extreme, to be honest with you, to hit the ball in the air,” he said. “In certain situations a ground ball the other way would benefit us. Sometimes [launch] works, sometimes it doesn’t. I do feel that you put a quality at-bat and you fight and you get a pitch to hit and you miss it, that’s good, too. Sometimes we get too caught up in the hit-the-ball-in-the-air stuff.
“Obviously there’s a reward when you hit the ball in the air, but how often does it happen? We live in an industry that seems like hitting below .200 and hitting 40 [homers is good]. Yeah, I get it, OPS and all that, but there’s been a lot of guys throughout the history of the game that hit 30 [homers] and drove in 100 [runs]. But when do you hit 30? When do you drive in the runs? I might get criticized because of the comment, but it’s the truth. What do you do with a man on third with less than two outs?”
Coming up big
Sam Travis’s two-run homer provided most of the Sox’ offense in Thursday’s win. In his last 12 games entering Friday, Travis was hitting .324 with six RBIs and an OPS of .916. Finding a direct path to the baseball has helped him.
“I’m just going up there and competing, getting good pitches,” Travis said. “You get down in the count, 0-2, you go into battle mode and try to fight. Sometimes they’re going to throw you some tough pitches in those counts and it’s huge to be able to foul them off and get another pitch. I just let my hands work and that’s been a game-changer for me.”
The Sox made the decision to designate Eduardo Nunez for assignment, freeing up a spot for Travis to get more playing time with Steve Pearce (back) still on the injured list.
“It was nothing about Nunez,” Cora said. “It was more about Sam and what he can do against lefties. We saw the swings toward the end of spring training, we saw it early in the season against Seattle. He went to London and put together good at-bats. This is a guy that when the game is going he can get on fastballs.”
Fenway Park got its first glimpse of the raw power of Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani of the Angels Friday afternoon. Ohtani put on a show in batting practice. In fact, he came within a few rows of hitting the famous Ted Williams red seat in the right-field bleachers. The ball landed in the aisle between sections 41 and 42, roughly by the 33rd row, and then bounced to the top of the section . . . David Price, who was placed on the injured list Thursday with a cyst in his left wrist, didn’t speak with the media Friday but is scheduled to do so prior to Saturday afternoon’s game.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com.