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Despite slump, Bradley remains confident

Red Sox rookie says week-long struggles are part of learning process

BOSTON -- With Friday's rainout at Fenway, Jackie Bradley Jr. was assured to have more than a week separating him from his last base hit.

"It's one of those periods every hitter goes through," Bradley said.

Since starting his Major League career with an RBI in each of his first three games, Bradley is 0-for-11 with five strikeouts and two walks. His average has fallen to .120 (3-for-25), though his on-base percentage remains strong at .313.

If Bradley's four-game rough patch happened in the middle of June, it might not be a story. But with designated hitter David Ortiz on the mend in Triple-A Pawtucket and Daniel Nava hitting .421 with three home runs and a .520 on-base percentage, the idea of Bradley being sent down for some seasoning at Triple-A (a level he's never played at) is at least relevant -- especially since 20 days spent in the Minors would keep the talented outfielder under team control through 2019 rather than '18.

Bradley was held out of the season-opener at Fenway on Monday when manager John Farrell noticed the 22-year-old's struggles and thought a day off might help. In the seventh inning of Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Orioles, Farrell had the right-handed Jonny Gomes pinch-hit for Bradley against right-handed reliever Pedro Strop. Gomes has traditionally matched up better against lefties, but Farrell replaced Bradley anyway and Gomes hit a liner to the third baseman.

"They've probably exploited the inside part of the plate on him a little bit more," Farrell said of Bradley's struggles. "The one thing that has shown up a little bit is that in Spring Training or even the first series of the year, early in the count when he swung the bat, he was getting his pitch and he was squaring some pitches up. Now those pitches are being fouled back."

Bradley has still been consistent with his plate discipline, walking six times with eight strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. Although he juggled a ball in the wet outfield Wednesday, he has played well-above-average defense in left field, highlighted by a shoestring catch on a shallow fly ball that he chased down on Thursday.

Bradley thinks the slump is simply a result of the learning process and he remains optimistic.

"I'm swinging at good pitches," Bradley said. "I'm still taking my walks when they come. It's just, when I get them to start falling, then I think it'll be fine. A couple hard-hit balls here and there, right at people. Hopefully I get a couple bloops in there."

Since collecting a base hit against Toronto last Friday, Bradley hasn't hit a ball into the outfield. He's grounded out seven times, including a bouncer to third base on Thursday.

The result was an odd one considering the pitch was a 93-mph fastball high and tight from Orioles starter Chris Tillman. Bradley had the ball centered up, but his hands were just a bit late coming through the zone and the ball smacked off the inside part of the bat and rolled toward the third-base side.

"I'm missing my pitches," Bradley said. "I'll see a good pitch and I'll feel like I put a good swing on it and I'll foul it back. That's the frustrating part about it, because I know those are the pitches I'm normally hitting and squaring up.

"You really can't do much after you hit it. Like I said, they'll start falling in holes eventually."

Bradley will get a big test this weekend as the Red Sox face Rays hurlers David Price, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson.

"I don't think he's faced the consistency of command from the pitchers on the mound at previous levels," Farrell said. "That's as much a factor in this as anything."

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato.

Boston Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr.