FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jackie Bradley Jr. was only supposed to spend a few weeks in spring training with the Red Sox. Now it appears he will be facing the Yankees on Opening Day.
The Red Sox informed outfielder Ryan Sweeney Thursday night that they would not be purchasing his contract. That would appear to clear the way for the 22-year-old Bradley to be added to the roster.
“Nobody has told me anything,” Bradley said after driving in a run to help the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins, 6-1. “I’m just going to show up tomorrow.”
The Red Sox had a hole to fill when it became apparent designated hitter David Ortiz would not be ready to start the season as he recovers from an Achilles’ tendon injury. Bradley made himself the best option, hitting .444 with seven extra-base hits, nine walks, and 12 RBIs over 71 plate appearances.
“I’ve tried to play hard and show them what I could do,” said Bradley, a supplemental first-round pick in 2011 out of South Carolina. “I had no idea what to expect. It has been fun.”
The Sox would not keep Bradley on the roster without the intention of playing him. He could start in left field Monday with Jonny Gomes filling in as the DH.
Bradley is an outstanding defensive player and has an advanced approach at the plate. He had a .423 on-base percentage in his first two seasons in the minors.
Sweeney’s departure also means that outfielder Daniel Nava and first baseman/left fielder Mike Carp likely will be on the team.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was tight-lipped after the game about the roster. But he praised Bradley earlier in the day, saying the Sox believe he can handle the unexpected promotion.
“You always want to get the best feel you can for the makeup of the individual. Looking at all sides, so in the event of something that doesn’t turn out well or as he’s challenged, how does he respond to those? That’s a projection,” Farrell said.
“Until you get to that point, you don’t fully know. How strong mentally is he? If struggles occur at the major league level, what would his response be? Yet at the same time, you look at the spring training he’s had, the talent that he is, and you try to put together the best team with the best players that you can. We’ve allowed him to go this deep into camp, so we’re not afraid and not unwilling to break with him. If that were the case, we would have sent him out four weeks ago.”
By promoting Bradley now, the Sox are starting his service-time clock, which could lead to his becoming a free agent in six years instead of seven. That would change if he returns to the minor leagues for 20 days at some point during the season or in subsequent years.
“We can’t control tomorrow, let alone six years from now,” Farrell said.
The Sox also optioned righthander Daniel Bard to Double A Portland and first baseman/designated hitter Mauro Gomez to Triple A Pawtucket.
That Bard was demoted was not a surprise. He allowed seven earned runs on nine hits, four walks, and two hit batters over eight innings in spring training.
Because he had minor league options and righthander Clayton Mortensen did not, it also was an issue of roster management.
Once one of the game’s premier setup men, Bard requested the opportunity to start after the 2011 season and the Red Sox agreed. Since that fateful decision was made, Bard has a 6.53 earned run average and a 1.71 WHIP in games he has pitched in spring training, the majors, and the minors.
Bard was 4-6 with a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts before the Sox went him to Pawtucket last season. He struggled in the minors and again when he returned to the majors in August.
At 27, it’s fair to wonder whether Bard’s career is in jeopardy.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves still believes Bard can return to prominence as a reliever. But it’s going to take time, which is why Bard was sent to Portland and not Pawtucket.
“This is strictly about continuing to rebuild his delivery and not so much sheer performance,” Farrell said. “We feel like once his delivery is consistent and he repeats, the results should take care of itself. That being the focal point, we felt it was a better work setting for him at Portland.”
Farrell and Nieves said Bard was disappointed but understood the decision.
“He knows he’s not where he wants to be. But he knows where we’re going with it,” Nieves said. “The direction is there. Now it’s how much work he puts into it and how important it is every day. That’s going to be the key.”
Bard’s velocity dipped dramatically last season but started to return in spring training. Nieves said his choice would have been to send Bard to winter ball to start the process earlier.
“You get another month and half, two months with him and we should see incredible results because he’s on the right track. It’s just not happening all at once,” Nieves said.
“There is a lot there. If he’s healthy, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t come back and be the guy that we always have seen.”