Bradford's debut for hometown team a learning experience

May 16th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- sat in the dugout on Monday afternoon, watching the Rangers take batting practice. Bradford wanted to take it all in -- the sheer size of Globe Life Field, the cracks of the bat, the sound of the ball hitting a glove.

Small things that would hopefully slow the game down for him as he prepared to make his MLB debut in his hometown.

A graduate of Aledo (Texas) High School, about 30 miles west of Globe Life Field, Bradford became the fourth native Texan to make his Major League debut in Arlington as a starting pitcher for the Rangers, joining teammate Glenn Otto (2021), general manager Chris Young (‘04) and Jim Gideon (1975).

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect debut for the club’s No. 26-ranked prospect. He struck out three and gave up six earned runs, including a pair of two-run homers in the second inning, as Texas fell to Atlanta, 12-0, to open a six-game homestand.

“Obviously not how anybody draws up their debut, but God blessed me with an amazing opportunity to pitch at home in front of a lot of friends and family, so I’ll definitely take that,” Bradford said postgame. “The Braves did a good job of hitting pitches over the middle of the plate tonight. Kudos to those guys, and I just hope the next opportunity goes up a little bit better.”

Despite his struggles, when the Rangers needed a spot start to give the rotation an extra day of rest after a 10-day West Coast road trip, Bradford was the perfect option.

A 2019 sixth-round Draft pick out of Baylor -- where he was the Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year his sophomore season -- Bradford did not allow a run through the first 12 1/3 frames of his Triple-A career en route to being named both the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Month and the Rangers' Minor League Pitcher of the Month this April.

The left-hander went 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA in seven starts to begin his first season at Triple-A Round Rock. He ranked among Pacific Coast League qualifiers in wins (1st), ERA (1st), opponent batting average (1st, .156), WHIP (1st, 0.86) and strikeouts (T5th, 37).

But Major League hitters aren’t Triple-A hitters, Bradford learned quickly. And to make matters more difficult, the first four batters he faced -- Ronald Acuña Jr, Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley -- all have at least one All-Star appearance.

Bradford gave up more runs in this one start than he did in seven with the Express this season.

“Just stay on the attack,” Bradford said of what was going through his mind. “I didn't try and think too much about who was hitting, just sticking to what the game plan was and trying to stay there.

“I think [pitching coach Mike Maddux] did a good job. Every time he came back in the dugout, he would sit me down -- him and Jonah [Heim] both -- and be like, ‘Hey, you know, this is working well, stay on the attack.’ A little bit of a confidence boost there, hearing it from those guys, even if I'm giving up a couple of hits here and there.”

There were some positives, though. Bradford got back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the third and fourth, seeming to right the ship just in time. And even in the dugout, he gleaned a lot from those talks with Maddux, Heim and even Rangers pitcher Martín Pérez.

“Actually, I was like, ‘Hey Martín, you remember your debut? How did it go?’ He said it was against Detroit and it was a really good lineup and he struggled a little bit,” Bradford explained. “He said, ‘You're like me. We're both lefties and won't have the [velocity] to beat guys. We gotta spot up, and we both have good changeups.’ He was just kind of walking me through maybe how to attack the next team.”

As for what happens next for Bradford, that has yet to be determined, Young said before the game. The primary purpose for this spot start was to give the rotation another day of rest and prevent the need for a bullpen day, which would put pressure on an already taxed group of relievers.

That purpose was fulfilled, but manager Bruce Bochy said postgame that he and Maddux will huddle up soon in order to come up with a plan of action for the 25-year-old lefty.

Despite his struggles in his debut, Bradford has gotten over the hump. He’s a big leaguer now.

“It's cool. It's really cool,” he said with a smile.