BOSTON -- Among his many tools, Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. especially takes pride in his throwing arm.
He works on it daily. He tries to air throws out as far as possible, as he did Wednesday afternoon during pregame warm-ups in Baltimore, reportedly throwing the ball over the right-field fence at Camden Yards and onto Eutaw Street from behind the third-base line.
As he says, “I’m willing to throw with the best of them.”
So then, in a week dominated by headlines about mystifying throws courtesy of Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, what did Bradley bring to the table in Thursday night’s 5-2 win over the Cleveland Indians? How about a play that had some of his peers raving about it after the game.
“I could maybe catch it, but I probably can't make that throw,” quasi-outfielder Brock Holt said. “That was a special play.”
“It probably [would have taken] 16 [hops] for me,” Daniel Nava joked.
Initially thinking that Indians center fielder Michael Bourn got jammed on a ball in the air to center in the top of the seventh inning, Bradley started in toward the plate before realizing he misread the ball. Having to adjust, Bradley sprinted back to the wall to make the running grab on the warning track before colliding into the Green Monster in left-center.
Despite having played for the Red Sox as recently as 2012, Indians third baseman Mike Aviles clearly didn’t get the memo on Bradley’s defense. Having rounded second and still making his way to third as Bradley tracked down the ball, Aviles had to turn around and rush back to first base to avoid the inning-ending double play, an effort turned futile as Bradley unleashed a one-hop throw from the track to first base that Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t think possible from his rookie outfielder.
“Not from that part of the ballpark,” Farrell said. “To one hop the first baseman when he’s got his back running away from the plate then turn and fire a strike. An impressive play all the way around.”
It was the highlight of an impressive day all the way around the Red Sox outfield as Bradley, Nava and Grady Sizemore each made significant contributions to the team’s win.
In addition to his throw, Bradley went 1-for-3, scored two runs and stole a base out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup. Sizemore hammered a ground-rule double to right field in the first inning for the first run of the game and also made a strong defensive play of his own, leaping to reel in a foul ball as he lightly collided into the right field wall. And Nava, the beleaguered outfielder sent to Triple-A Pawtucket following a brutal start to the season, went 3-for-4 for his second three-hit game since being recalled June 2.
“To his credit, he’s made an adjustment with his set up at the plate,” Farrell said. “He’s putting some good swings on some balls. He’s not lifting the ball as he was early in the season.”
Nava, now 9-for-22 since his return, said the reason for his improved play is a result of simplifying the game.
“I think maybe before I was just focusing on the results rather than the process,” Nava said. “Right now I’m trying to step in the box and be as comfortable as I can, take a good swing on a pitch I think I can take a good swing on and just leave the results as whatever they may be.”
All told, the trio’s contributions loomed large in what was a big win at home for a Red Sox team struggling to stay afloat in the American League. Especially when you consider that Thursday marked the first time the Red Sox have had a three-run lead in a game since their last game at Fenway on June 1.
“RBIs, runs scored -- whether it’s no outs, two outs -- it was just good to get a little breathing room tonight,” Farrell said.