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Sunday, September 22, 2013
Bradley making a case for playoff spot

By Tony Lee, Special to ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The talk surrounding playoff rotations is often so intense, as has been the case in Boston this month, that discussions surrounding bench machinations are rendered almost meaningless. The last guy off the bench matters little when the first guy on the mound has yet to be determined.

The Red Sox have said they plan to carry 11 pitchers in the Division Series. That leaves 14 other roster spots. After names like Pedroia, Ortiz, Victorino, Ellsbury, Napoli, Drew, Middlebrooks, Saltalamacchia, Nava, Carp, Gomes and Ross are penciled in, there are two spots up from grabs. One figures to be Xander Bogaerts or veteran John McDonald to give the club some depth on the left side of the infield.

That would leave one more opening, and the competition figures to pit pinch-runner extraordinaire Quintin Berry against dynamic youngster Jackie Bradley Jr. Berry has a defined role that can pay dividends in the postseason, but Bradley Jr. is at least making his case to stick around come October. He added some fuel to the debate Sunday with a three-run homer in Boston’s 5-2 win over Toronto.

Bradley is 5-for-10 with the homer, a double and three runs scored in his last three games and has been very sound in center field. Once Ellsbury returns and proves his foot injury is no longer an issue, Bradley is back to the bench. At the very least, he has accepted that role and appears primed to embrace it if given the chance in October.

“Just be professional every single day. You’ve got to be ready to play, come in,” he said. “If you’re not in the starting lineup just come in and be able to help out any way you can. It’s been great to be able to see the team still win anyway no matter who’s in the lineup.”

Ellsbury, Victorino, Nava, Carp and Gomes all play the outfield. Having a sixth is somewhat excessive, and Berry almost doesn’t qualify as one since his job is to run, run and run some more. That may put Bradley on the outs, but his little surge down the stretch gives the club plenty for which to be excited going forward.

“A young player’s first experience, whether it’s coming up one time to the major leagues in a given year or in his case three times, this has been a tremendous learning experience for him,” manager John Farrell said. “The three-run homer in the second inning puts us ahead to stay but the challenges that he’s faced here, major league pitching, this will go a long way in his overall development. Our view of him long-term has not changed one bit. He’s just going through that normal transition a young player goes through.”

Whether that normal transition involves the abnormal inclusion as a sixth outfielder on a playoff roster remains to be seen. Bradley, who was 3-for-31 (.097) with one extra-base hit in his first stint with the big club in April and May and 14-for-58 (.241) with seven extra-base hits ever since, has at least proved he belongs.