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Bradley, Nava, and a start to believe in

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 9, 2013 12:01 PM

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Playing nine innings while going all-in on the 2013 Red Sox redemption tour ...


1. After all of the words spent on his service time and 2019 and ridiculous hey-if-Mike-Trout-can-do-it comps from those who knew him only as a name on a prospect list before his torrid spring training, it seems like it's all working out for the best for the Red Sox regarding Jackie Bradley Jr. I mean, the ideal of course was that he'd hit, oh, 100 points below his .419 spring average and never know first-hand the charms of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. But that was unrealistic the day he boarded the plane for the opener in the Bronx, and it's unrealistic in retrospect. As talented as he is, he has just 61 games of Double A experience, and he slumped over the 2013 season's final weeks in Portland. It made sense that major league pitchers would find a weakness and expose it until he adjusts, and his weakness has proven to be inside fastballs, just as it was for a young Jacoby Ellsbury. But Bradley has foreshadowed the dynamic player he will be when he is ready -- no one will forget his debut in New York, in which he flashed his dazzling defense and worked a memorable walk (insomuch as a walk can be memorable) from savvy CC Sabathia. Provided that the good news continues to arrive regarding David Ortiz's progress, it's inevitable that Bradley heads to Triple A upon Papi's return. It's the best thing for his development, and of course if he's there for 20 days ... well, you know the service-time thing. If he progresses the way we should expect, the next time he comes to the big leagues, his stay should last for well beyond a decade.

2. I don't think it's getting ahead of ourselves to say with some certainty seven games into this thing that this is going to be a far more likable team than we've been accustomed to in recent seasons. Perhaps more important, it's shaping up to be a more patient one. Even in a game that was scoreless until the seventh, Orioles pitchers threw 124 pitches in eight innings, with starter Wei-Yin Chen throwing 36 through the first two frames. Jonny Gomes's 10-pitch at-bat in the second inning ended with a popup, but as we learned from that band of Idiots a decade ago, making a pitcher work early can lead to the scoreboard operator being busy the longer the game goes and the deeper into the bullpen the offense gets.

3. Of course, plate discipline is a work in progress for some. If Sunday's three-homer (plus a double and darned near a fourth homer in his final at-bat) stands as the most optimistic example of what Will Middlebrooks can become, his at-bat with two on and no one out in the seventh in a scoreless game was a brief reminder that there will still be some growing pains from the talented sophomore third baseman. One pitch after laying off a two-strike slider, he whiffed on a Chen slider that was well off the plate. The book on Middlebrooks last season, when he walked 13 times and whiffed 70 in 286 plate appearances, was that he would get himself out from time to time on slow stuff away. He's clearly made adjustments already and is on his way to big things, but the at-bat Monday was a reminder that there's progress still to be made.

4. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Daniel Nava broke the game open in the next at-bat. He entered Monday's game a .191 hitter with 3 homers in 131 plate appearances batting righthanded against a lefthander. But after clubbing the game-breaking, no-doubt-about-it three-run homer off Orioles lefty Wei-Yen Chen in the seventh inning, Nava is now 4 for 10 with a homer, double and a walk in 13 plate appearances against lefties this season. "I think he's done a much better job of picking out pitches that he can drive,'' said Farrell, who informed Nava Sunday that he'd get the start over slumping Jackie Bradley Jr. "He was the difference in the ballgame, obviously, and it was because of those consistent ABs.''

5. So, regarding Nava, I'm fully ready to admit my misguidance -- oh, all right, I was wrong -- when it comes to his viability as a semi-regular player on a good team. He's almost always hit when healthy, as a big leaguer and certainly through his long minor-league journey, and he's worked hard to address his weaknesses and increase his versatility. He is at least an average defensive outfielder now and he looks more than competent at first base. It seems I made the mistake so many scouts made in evaluating Nava. I underestimated him.

hernandezenzo76.jpg.JPG6. The Orioles' Chris Davis is a notorious streak hitter -- his monthly OPS last season ranged from .659 (in June) to 1.057 (in September/October). But he's carried over his hellacious conclusion to the '12 season (he had 10 homers in the final month) with an equally torrid start this year. Buchholz admittedly pitched him carefully and Davis wound up 0 for 2 with a pair of walks Monday, but he entered the game with four homers and 17 RBIs in his first 26 plate appearances of the season. The late, legendary Enzo Hernandez had five fewer RBIs in 592 more plate appearances in 1971.

7. Andrew Bailey served the role of conventional setup man with an impressive eighth (two strikeouts), but I still hold out some hope that John Farrell will use him almost as a short-relief ace this season, coming in at any point from, say, the sixth inning on when there's a high-leverage situation. The closer doesn't always record the game's most important outs. Bailey, who appears to have rediscovered the form that made him a statistical comp for Jonathan Papelbon during his three seasons in Oakland -- he has velocity and movement on his pitches that we never saw last year -- could thrive in such a role.

8. One more reminder since a couple of readers asked where he was upon noticing his absence from Monday's festivities: Dave O'Brien has shifted from calling Wednesday night games to Monday night games for ESPN, which means he'll be absent from WEEI 93.7 broadcasts on Mondays this season. Currently he's away because of his women's Final Four duties for ESPN.

nievesjuanfinn59.jpg9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

John Farrell deserves the praise he's receiving for the early success of the Red Sox pitching staff, but don't forget about the contributions of Juan Nieves. It's nice to have a pitching coach with more clout and initiative than your average substitute teacher.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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