BOSTON -- The Red Sox, after waiting patiently for Jackie Bradley Jr. to start hitting, optioned the rookie center fielder back to Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday.
Mookie Betts, ranked Boston's No. 1 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, was recalled from Pawtucket to take Bradley's spot on the roster.
This is the third stint for Betts with the Red Sox this season, but this time he will have a defined role, taking over as the primary center fielder.
"I'm just happy to get the opportunity again," said Betts. "I wasn't really thinking about it too much. I figured it was probably going to be until September. It did kind of surprise me. I was just thinking about getting better in the outfield and getting a few more at-bats."
Betts batted eighth against Angels lefty C.J. Wilson on Monday night at Fenway Park and went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run.
"The move to send Jackie back to Pawtucket has been talked about for a little while now," said manager John Farrell. "I think it's important to note that this isn't reactionary. Had it been reactionary, you might suggest it was going to be done awhile ago. We felt like some of the adjustments that were being worked on had some evidence inside of given games.
"We're sending him out to maintain some of those adjustments, and that is to try to shorten down that swing a little more and have a more distinct two-strike approach."
The Red Sox expect Bradley to return to the club sometime after rosters are expanded Sept. 1.
Bradley was originally supposed to start the season at Triple-A, but when Shane Victorino strained his right hamstring in the last game of Spring Training, Bradley made the team for Opening Day.
The left-handed hitter had spent the entire season on the Major League roster until being informed after Sunday's game that he was headed back to Pawtucket.
Interestingly, the decision to send down Bradley was made on the same day he had two hits against the Astros, marking his first multihit game since July 25.
"Jackie understood it and he understands the need to increase the consistency and the strikeout rate," said Farrell. "While we anticipated an increase coming to the big leagues, it's exceeded his expectations, ours as well, and [he] understands the needs that are in front of him."
Though he played spectacular defense, Bradley struggled to sustain any kind of consistency at the plate. He was batting .216 with 19 doubles, two triples, one home run, 30 RBIs, 45 runs and 31 walks.
The Red Sox felt Bradley was coming around during a 51-at-bat stretch from July 5-25, when he hit .353 with a .411 on-base percentage.
"Well, the work ethic has been consistent," said Farrell. "I think there's been times where he's felt better about himself and you would expect that. We point back to the days leading up to the All-Star break and many of us thought he was swinging the bat well. There was consistent line-drive contact. That's the type of hitter he's been through his pro career leading up to his time here. That's what we're trying to get back to."
After that isolated hot streak, Bradley spiraled downward at a rapid pace, hitting .115 with no extra-base hits and just two walks over his last 52 at-bats.
The reason Bradley stuck around for so long despite the prolonged struggles was made obvious every time he made a great play with his glove or arm. He leads all Major League outfielders with 13 assists and eight double plays. Over the past two seasons, Bradley has appeared in 149 games and hit .210.
"The defense is an impact defender and a premium center fielder," said Farrell. "We don't view him as an extra outfielder. We need to regain some of the consistency he's shown through the Minor League level and the performance history that's there and we're doing what we can to get back to that."
Betts, 21, has appeared in 13 games this season and hit .244 (10-for-41) with two doubles, one homer, two RBIs and six runs while splitting time between right and center field. He hit .346 in 99 Minor League games in Double-A and Triple-A this season.
"He'll primarily play center field," Farrell said. "And the one thing that he continually shows as he's gone back down has been very good bat speed. The play in center field continues to improve defensively and we'll get a chance to see it on a regular basis here."