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Bradley continues to find new ways to make roster case

Bradley continues to find new ways to make roster case play video for Bradley continues to find new ways to make roster case

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- There was not much more Jackie Bradley Jr. could do to impress the Red Sox during Spring Training, but manager John Farrell decided to give him another test Sunday.

All the 22-year-old left-handed hitter was asked to do was face one of the toughest southpaw starters in baseball -- the Phillies' Cliff Lee.

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Bradley capped off his first at-bat of the 'test' by going into his home-run trot.

With his chances of cracking Boston's Opening Day roster increasing by the day, Bradley gave himself another boost by belting Lee's fastball over the fence in left-center for a three-run homer.

"Just trying to see something early that I can put a good swing on," Bradley said. "I mean, he has a repertoire where he can throw any pitch at any time for a strike. I definitely didn't want to get behind on him. I hit it, and right off the bat I figured it's got a chance because you've got a jet stream up there. I saw the left fielder look up and went, 'Oh man, it might have a chance.' It felt great."

Truth be told, the wind aided the ball. But there was no hiding another truth -- Bradley has stood up to every challenge during his first Major League camp.

"It feels good," Bradley said. "He's a very great pitcher, and I'm just trying to stick with my approach and get something good to swing at."

The Red Sox would not be contemplating putting Bradley on their opening 25-man roster without a significant number of at-bats waiting for him.

The misfortunes of fellow left-handed hitters David Ortiz (ailing right heel) and Stephen Drew (concussion) just might turn into Bradley's gain, at least at the start of the season.

For Farrell, it is reminiscent of another situation when he was the Indians' farm director -- back in Spring Training of 2005.

Midway through camp, Grady Sizemore had been optioned to Triple-A. But Juan Gonzalez was injured at the end of camp, and Sizemore was with Cleveland for Opening Day.

What does Farrell remember about Sizemore eight springs ago?

"That he was ready," Farrell said. "As is the case many times, it's out of the players' control. But an injury opened up a spot for him."

Now, here is Bradley, not paying attention to all the attention that surrounds him, and just doing his job every time he is on the field.

In his second at-bat against Lee, Bradley hit a solid line drive to center for a sacrifice fly. Lee struck Bradley out on an offspeed pitch in his third at-bat. Bradley finished the day 1-for-3 with four RBIs.

"He looked good," Lee said. "I mean, he hit a fastball away over the fence. And the next at-bat I threw him a fastball in and he hit it to center pretty hard. It looked to me like he's got a good swing. Especially being left on left, he stays in there pretty good, so it looks like he's got some talent to me."

It should be noted that the Red Sox face another pretty prominent left-hander on Opening Day -- the Yankees' CC Sabathia.

"I just try to treat every pitcher the same," Bradley said. "They've still got to throw across the plate. It's the kind of approach I go with righties, lefties. I don't really let the lefty-lefty try to get in my head."

If the Red Sox think Bradley can handle left-handers, there is probably no reason not to have him on the team, at least while Ortiz is out of the mix.

"This is probably the best environment we could put him in: on the road, away from our ballpark, going up against a very good pitcher. This will be a good day for him," Farrell said.

And it was. While Bradley was at it, he started in left field, a land he has hardly roamed since 2005, his freshman year of high school. Bradley played two innings in left Friday, making three nice plays. He was out there all nine innings in Sunday's 7-6 win over the Phillies. The only hiccup was on a popup just behind third base, when Bradley called off third baseman Will Middlebrooks and dropped the ball.

"I had seen earlier anything high, pretty much the outfielder is going to want to go get it because you don't want the infielders going back," Bradley said. "I saw it up there, and I was looking at the ball the whole time because you don't want to take your eyes off the ball with it so windy up there. I didn't see Will waving his hand. It was my fault."

Aside from that, one would have to dig deep to find any other mistakes by Bradley this spring. Bradley is hitting .423 with two homers, nine RBIs and four doubles in 52 at-bats.

"As I've said all along, he's done a great job this Spring Training from start to finish," Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. "Defensively, he's working hard. He's working at every part of the game. Offensively, his approach is good. Again, it's always great to see a young kid who is on the brink and hopefully going to get that opportunity to help the big league club. I don't know when it's going to be, but I think he's definitely proven to people he can do it."

The other thing Farrell wanted to get a look at Sunday was Bradley's sharing the outfield with two other players who are center fielders by trade -- Jacoby Ellsbury and Victorino.

Without Ortiz's run production early in the season, the potential for run prevention in the outfield could be a very helpful development.

"That's all being thought of and factored in," Farrell said. "That scenario [was] out there on the field today. That's an outfield that has a lot of range and can cover a lot of ground."

Though a final decision has not been made, nobody would be surprised to see that very same outfield alignment April 1 -- on a much bigger stage called Yankee Stadium.

 

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }