FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Jackie Bradley Jr. enters what could be his final season with the Red Sox -- this is his walk year -- he is taking yet another crack at eliminating the flaw that has haunted him through the years.
Consistency at the plate, that ever-elusive goal, is what drives him.
And maybe a little more luck would help at times, too.
Not long after smashing a rocket of a two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the fourth inning in Tuesday's 12-4 win over the Orioles, Bradley gazed at the crack in the middle of his bat.
Yes, he was a little surprised he could hit a ball so far while breaking his bat.
“It died a warrior,” Bradley mused of his deceased piece of lumber. “I’ll take all [the luck] I can get.”
The truth is that it was a great swing with a piece of wood that was probably just on its way out.
“Wow, he barreled up that ball, too,” said Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke. “He said he saw a hairline in it but didn’t really think much of it before. The barrel was cracked in the middle. It wasn’t down in the handle. It was right in the barrel. But that ball was hit. I know the wind was blowing out, but that ball was hit.”
When Bradley hits the ball in such a destructive way, it makes it hard to fathom why his career numbers (.236/.317/.409) aren’t better. Bradley showed on the big stage how dangerous he could be when he was named Most Valuable Player of the 2018 American League Championship Series.
Though Bradley hit just .225 last season, his lowest average since 2014, he consistently hit the ball hard after the All-Star break without much to show for it.
Bradley had an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph in the second half of the 2019 season, tied for 54th of the 252 batters with at least 100 batted balls in that span. His hard-hit rate was 47.9 percent, ranking him 23rd among those same batters.
Looking at those numbers, you probably can’t blame Bradley for vowing to view things through a different lens in 2020.
“During the regular season, it’s about whether they land or not,” said Bradley. “I mean, the whole hitting balls hard, I’m over it, I’m out on that. I don’t care about that. I want bloops, bleed jobs, jammed knuckles, I want all of that, as long as they fall in.”
Perhaps Bradley got too consumed by the science of hitting heading into the 2019 season. He went on a trip to California last offseason to work with one of the gurus of launch angle in Craig Wallenbrock. Though Wallenbrock has gotten breakout success out of some players, including Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, the new approach had Bradley’s swing a pure mess early in the ’19 season.
Bradley didn’t travel to see any personal coaches this offseason. Never an excuse-maker, Bradley isn’t pointing fingers at Wallenbrock for his 2019 woes.
“He was fine. Craig is great. I haven’t talked to him this offseason. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t,” said Bradley.
But Bradley is clearly determined to keep things simpler and let his athleticism take priority over an obsession to technique in his offense.
How does Bradley look at himself as a hitter right now?
“I’m a work in progress,” Bradley said. “I have different thoughts, different keys that I’ve been working on this go-round. I’m going to use it in Spring Training and go from there during the season.”
With Wallenbrock out of the picture, Bradley was vague when asked who his hitting confidants are these days. But there will definitely be an inner circle that figures to include Red Sox hitting coaches Tim Hyers and Peter Fatse.
“I’m listening to a few people,” said Bradley. “We’re all on the same page, discussing and bouncing ideas off of one another. We’re trying to make sure something works. There’s a lot of people in my corner here. I saw a quote today that was saying how, don’t ever be, like, upset when people are trying to help you. It’s not that that person trying to help you has it all in place, but who knows? They might have that right piece for you.”
Drafted by the Red Sox in 2011, Bradley has been a stud defender in center who has displayed some prolific hot streaks at the plate.
It remains to be seen how his final chapter will be written in Boston -- if this season ends up being that. But after seeing his long-time friend Mookie Betts get dealt earlier this month, Bradley’s eyes are wide open.
“Not many baseball players stay with the same team for their whole career," Bradley said. “I don’t see it as strange, but I have grown up in this organization. This is all I know. If it does happen, it will be different. But good thing I don’t have to worry about it right now at this very moment.”