JUPITER, Fla. -- Jackie Bradley Jr. could not have been flying much higher last spring, before the regular season brought him a cold dose of reality.
About a week into this year's Grapefruit League schedule, Bradley has generated no eye-popping stats. Yet he might be much more prepared for the rigors of April and beyond -- and the Red Sox need him to be.
"All I know is I'm in a better position than I was last year and feel like I made the appropriate adjustments," said Bradley, who is battling with Grady Sizemore to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. "I'm learning as fast as I can. I'm never going to be done learning, but I'm really ready to embrace whatever's ahead."
After a quiet game against the Cardinals on Wednesday, Bradley went into Thursday's contest with the Marlins hitting .200 (2-for-10) this spring. It's a tiny sample that pales in comparison to his work last March, when he forced himself onto the Opening Day roster by demolishing Grapefruit League pitching at a .419/.507/.613 clip in 28 games.
It was an unsustainable performance that cratered once the team headed north, and Bradley was back at Triple-A Pawtucket by mid-April. By season's end, he had put in four stints with Boston, but hit only .189/.280/.337 in 107 plate appearances.
"He was challenged at the Major League level and he got sent back out to adjust some of the areas that opposing pitchers were attacking in the strike zone," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Probably the first time he's struggled in his baseball career, and it happened to be at the Major League level. Not only is that humbling, but it causes you to get to know yourself that much more accurately."
Bradley said he isn't focusing on last year, but that doesn't mean it hasn't left its mark on him.
"Just being able to build on all the failures, and some success as well," he said of what he's taken from the experience. "Learning the routines, learning pitchers, making adjustments. ... That's pretty much what this game's all about -- making the small adjustments in order to better yourself."
Farrell saw that happening even at the end of last season, when Bradley returned to the club in September. The Boston skipper thought Bradley's at-bats were better, and the results were a bit more attractive as well, with the outfielder going 9-for-37 (.243) with a home run and two doubles.
Bradley felt the same trend occurring.
Each time he went back to the Majors, Bradley said, he became more acclimated and gained a better understanding of how pitchers were trying to attack him. He was working to pick up on their strengths and weaknesses while also trying to stay within his own strengths.
"More than anything, he's more aware of some of the opposing pitchers he'll face, where last year he had no book on them," Farrell said. "And that goes a long way. He's a smart kid and he's shown that throughout his career. So that experience is going to serve him well going forward."
This spring, the Red Sox are giving Bradley plenty of opportunities to prepare for his next shot. Farrell is putting him in the lineup two out of every three days and looking only for "quality at-bats," not for him to replicate last year's blistering pace.
"There's been so much made about the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jackie I think has handled that in stride," Farrell said. "He's not trying to replace anyone, but just go out and perform to his capabilities. And provided he does that, we've got a very good center fielder."