In defense of Jackie Bradley Jr.

I’ll admit that I took a flying leap onto the Grady Sizemore bandwagon Monday night. What’s not to love? A 31-year-old three-time MLB All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner who hasn’t played a game of professional baseball in over two years makes his return with the Boston Red Sox and goes 2 for 4 with a solo home run his second at-bat. Sizemore was a force to be reckoned with in the mid-2000s. He hit over 20 home runs and stole over 20 bases every year from 2005 to 2008, making the All-Star team three of those years. In 2008 he became the 32nd player in MLB history to hit over 30 home runs (33) and steal over 30 bases (38) in one season. By comparison, David Ortiz hit 23 home runs and Jacoby Ellsbury stole 50 bases that same year.

So when Sizemore stepped up to the plate for the first time in 2 years, 6 months and 9 days and got a base hit to right field, Sox fans began to nod their heads in agreement with the front office for picking up the injury-riddled, ten-year veteran. And when he sent the ball out of the park to tie up the game his second at-bat? Jacoby who? And forget Jackie Bradley Jr., Grady’s still got it.

Not so fast.

Bradley Jr. may not have had the best Spring Training numbers and he certainly didn’t help his cause when he struck out looking in his only at-bat Opening Day in the top of the 9th with two runners on and the Sox only trailing by one, but the 23-year-old has quite a lot going for him. Sizemore may have had a great game, but he also struck out with men on in the eighth inning to help the Orioles cling to their one-run lead. Sizemore isn’t the player he was back in 2008. He played only 33 games during the 2010 season before micro-fracture surgery on his left knee put him out for the year. He came back to play 71 games in 2011, but only put up 10 home runs and didn’t steal a single base. He then missed the entirety of the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of back and knee injuries.

He impressed John Farrell down in Fort Meyers and landed the starting center fielder position for Opening Day, but one 2 for 4 performance shouldn’t be enough to send Bradley Jr. down to Pawtucket for good. After missing most of the 2010 season, Sizemore came back to the plate for the Indians on April 17, 2011 where he went 2 for 4, including a double and a home run. He know how to excite a fan base. But he went on to put up the worst numbers of his career in home runs and stolen bases that season. Fast forward to Wednesday night when he went 0 for 4 in the Sox 6-2 win over the Orioles. Then to Thursday night when he was rested because of an early day game on Friday that he’s slated to start. Grady Sizemore is a ticking time bomb that’s reached its expiration date.

Jackie Bradley Jr., on the other hand, is just getting started. He took his first start on Thursday night and proved to the city of Boston that he was there to play. He hit an infield single to lead off the third inning and came around to score off an Ortiz single to put the Sox up 2-0. He had a sacrifice fly to push Will Middlebrooks to third base in his second at-bat and sent Middlebrooks all the way home with an RBI single his third time at the plate. This would end up being the winning run in a 4-3 decision at Camden Yards to give the Red Sox the series.

Sizemore gets the start Friday afternoon at 2:05 P.M. against the Milwaukee Brewers in the Fenway Park home opener. He’ll need to continue to bring some of that Monday night magic to the plate to prove himself over a young, rising player like Bradley Jr. This could still be the miracle season for Sizemore that Sox fans started daydreaming about the second they saw his 345-foot blast into the left field bleachers on Monday night. The ultimate comeback kid.

But if he fails to live up to this dream or is plagued by injury once again before he even gets the chance, there’s a young, promising player waiting down in Pawtucket who is more than ready to take his place.

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