The timing may appear curious, but the Red Sox sent outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., back to Triple-A Pawtucket after the game on Sunday, with Mookie Betts getting called up to take his place on the roster.
While Bradley was hitting just .216/.288/.290 in 112 games, with 111 strikeouts and just 31 walks, going 75-for-348. He had struck out in 29 percent of his plate appearances, 32 percent of his at-bats.
Over his last five games, though, he went 5-for-20, with three runs scored, four strikeouts and two walks, with hits in four of those games. He went 2-for-3 on Sunday with a walk and no strikeouts, the first time he had multiple hits in a game since July 29.
Prior to that stretch he had gone 46 plate appearances between walks, from July 24 until Aug. 14. He had also been in a skid of going 0-for-35 with 18 strikeouts.
During his rough stretches, which have been most of the season, his defense never suffered. He leads the major leagues with 13 outfield assists and eight double plays.
“The move to send Jackie back to Pawtucket has been talked about for a little while now,” manager John Farrell said Monday afternoon before the start of a four-game series at Fenway Park against the Angels.
“I think it’s important to note that this wasn’t reactionary. Had it been reactionary, you might suggest it was to be done a while ago. We felt like some of the adjustments that were being worked on had some evidence inside a given game, but we’re sending him out to maintain some of the adjustments.”
Some of the specific adjustments Farrell mentioned were for Bradley to try to shorten his swing and improve his two-strike approach. In all two-strike counts Bradley is batting .133/.184/.190, going 26-for-195.
Bradley, 24, had been on the major league roster all season. He was originally set to start the season with Pawtucket, getting optioned on March 28 just before the start of the regular season. But when Shane Victorino went on the disabled list on March 30, Bradley was called up to be on the Opening Day roster.
Why now, after Bradley had shown relative, if incremental, improvement?
“We wanted to see some of that work, to see if it had a chance to play out here,” Farrell said. “[We] felt like right now it was an opportunity to try to take advantage of the remaining three weeks of the minor league season, hopefully, to gain some confidence and momentum when he comes back here. So, that’s the reason for now.”
Farrell said the Sox do not view Bradley as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
“The defense is an impact defender and a premium center fielder,” Farrell said. “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.”
Bradley, though, is not the only one of the Sox rookies struggling this season. The Sox have played nine rookies, who have made a major league-leading 345 starts this season going into Monday’s game. Xander Bogaerts leads all major league rookies with 111 starts, the most by a Sox rookie since Jacoby Ellsbury started 129 games in 2008. Bogaerts is batting .228/.296/.342 with 113 strikeouts in 421 at-bats, or 27 percent.
The PawSox have 14 games left in the regular season, before a potential playoff run. Farrell said he expects — but didn’t guarantee – that Bradley would be back with the Sox before the end of the season.
Betts, 21, is in the lineup Monday, batting eighth, playing center field. This is his third stint with the Sox this season. He is batting .244/.279/.366 in 13 games, playing right field and center field. Farrell said Brock Holt would also continue to get playing time there this season.