ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Monday’s version of Jackie Bradley Jr. was the type of offense both Bradley and the Red Sox wanted this year.
In the Sox’ 7-4 loss to the Rays, Bradley went 3 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored. Monday was just a snapshot, though. For Bradley, it was another season of failure at the plate.
There’s little doubt, he’s the best defensive center fielder in baseball — perhaps in the conversation about the best in history — but the offensive production has been bumpy.
Bradley spent the offseason with well-known hitting coach Craig Wallenbrock , who helped turn J.D. Martinez into one of the best hitters in baseball. Bradley was coming off a season where he hit .234 with just 13 homers and a .717 OPS. He needed a shift in the way he was doing things.
But entering Monday, Bradley’s batting average was just .221, his lowest since 2014, when he hit .198 He had 20 homers this season, but he had a career-high 147 strikeouts.
“Everybody knows it, when he’s hot, he’s hitting the ball the other way,” manager Alex Cora said before the Sox’ final game against the Tampa Bay Rays. “When he’s not, he swing-and-misses and ground-balls to the right side. It’s not for a lack of trying. I read stories about swing coaches and all that and how great they are, but for every successful story, there are those that don’t work. Nobody talks about those.”
Entering Monday, Bradley posted a 14.16 swing-and-miss rate, a career mark. In a 140-game span this season, Bradley actually went to the opposite field 24 percent of the time (up from last season’s 20.5 percent), but Bradley often tries to pull outside pitches, resulting in a career-worst 50.8 percent groundball rate.
“He needs to be an athlete. That’s the most important thing,” Cora said. “When he’s at the plate and is an athlete, he goes the other way. That’s something we’ll look at. I know he’s frustrated with the way things went this year. One thing about him is he’s not going to back out. He’s going to keep continuing.”
Heath Hembree officially went to the injured list for the second time in 2019 on Aug. 2. Hembree had been dealing with right lateral elbow inflammation.
It was the first of many hits for the Red Sox. The Red Sox were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. Shortly after, David Price went to the IL, too, as did Chris Sale as the Sox’ season continued its downward spiral.
Even though the Sox’ season will end Sunday, Hembree returned from the IL Monday. For the 30-year-old righthander, having peace of mind knowing he had some outings under his belt is important to him.
“I want to go into the offseason healthy, knowing I was healthy,” Hembree said. “I felt like pitching a couple of games here in the last week of the season.”
Cora targeted the upcoming series against the Texas Rangers for Hembree’s return, but he used him during the seventh inning Monday. Hembree worked a 1-2-3 inning
“I feel like myself,” Hembree said before the game. “I’m back to where I wanted to be and the level of competitiveness I want to be at. I feel good. I feel like the [platelet-rich plasma] injection did its job. We took our time and checked off the boxes.”
Mixing and matching
Andrew Benintendi (thumb) was available off the bench, but Cora played the matchup game with the Rays’ Blake Snell on the mound . . . Cora is close to shutting down rookie reliever Darwinzon Hernandez . . . With his fourth-inning RBI single, Martinez recorded his fourth season with 35 homers and 100 RBIs. He became the ninth Red Sox player to reach those totals in multiple years, joining David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mo Vaughn, Tony Armas, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, and Jimmie Foxx.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @byjulianmack.