- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It’s never any less awkward, regardless of how many times the scene repeats itself in spring training: A cluster of reporters gathers around the player who has just been told he has made the big league team, while just a few feet away the player who was beaten out for the job prepares to clean out his locker.
And so it was the case here in Red Sox camp Friday, when Grady Sizemore was discussing how, against all odds coming into camp, he is the Opening Day center fielder, while Jackie Bradley Jr., who appeared to have the inside track on the job at the start of spring training, had just been told he was being optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.
“Back to work," Bradley said when asked his thoughts about returning to the PawSox. “Back to work."
While Sizemore exceeded expectations with his performance this spring, batting .333 and showing no ill-effects from a two-year layoff spawned by seven surgeries, Bradley showed only glimpses of the player who had stirred so much excitement last spring, when he batted .419 and played superb defense. There was no drop-off in his defensive performance, but Bradley batted .158 and struck out a team-high 17 times.
“I knew it was going to be a competing thing," Bradley said. "[Sizemore] played well. I didn’t perform in spring training, but I feel like I’m ready for the season and ready to prove it.
“We all didn’t, I guess, see Jackie Bradley Jr. this spring," he added.
It became clear, as camp neared an end, that the Sox were leaning toward Sizemore as long as he continued to hold up physically. This week he played in three straight games for the first time, and the Sox met with both Sizemore and Bradley on Friday morning.
“I was prepared either way," Bradley said. “I’m not one really to get caught off-guard about anything. Take it in stride and move on."
Asked if he could appreciate what Sizemore had accomplished, making it back to this point, Bradley said: “Oh yeah. For anybody, if you said you didn’t admire what he had been through and the things he’s been able to do, you’d be lying. He’s amazing, a great ballplayer, great person, great teammate."
Manager John Farrell, when meeting with reporters, described Bradley as being “critical” to the team’s short- and long-term plans.
“It’s one of those things you focus on the present," Bradley said. “You can’t really predict what the future holds. Their confidence that I’m part of the program going forward, that’s a good thing."
But regardless of whether Bradley had anticipated this outcome, it’s never easy.
“It’s humbling," he said. “I’ve always known that, though. I don’t really get too caught up in the highs, I don’t get too caught up in the lows. I try to stay in the happy medium. It all evens out."
3dScott Barboza, Special to ESPN.com