'Eventually, I want to be great'

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It is a bold statement for any rookie, more so for one who is enduring one of the most wretched offensive seasons in the history of the Red Sox.

But it is testament to Jackie Bradley Jr.'s unshakable confidence in himself.

"Eventually,'' he said Saturday afternoon, "I want to be great.''

On one side of the ball, Bradley may already be there. He is making a compelling case for being the best defensive center fielder the Red Sox have had in generations, and that includes such outstanding defenders as Jacoby Ellsbury, Coco Crisp, Darren Lewis and Fred Lynn.

"His reads off the bat are better than any outfielder I've ever seen," manager John Farrell told reporters here Saturday afternoon, the day after Bradley -- who had entered the game as a defensive replacement -- made another highlight-reel play, crashing into the wall after spearing Howie Kendrick's drive with a leaping catch.

Bradley made another superb catch in the ninth inning Saturday, robbing Kendrick again by snagging a ball at his ankles while on a dead run before hitting the turf.

"Seemingly he's on the move as the ball is going through the hitting zone, even before contact is made,'' Farrell said. "There are a lot of other outfielders who are faster than him in the league, and yet he has the most range of anybody in the game, and it's because of the instincts."

But at the plate, Bradley has looked lost. Hitless in his last 35 at-bats (the longest streak in the majors this season), he went 0-for-4 on Sunday with four strikeouts. His batting average stands at .211. After a 14-game stretch that wrapped around the All-Star break in which Bradley hit .375 (18-for-48), he is now 3 for his last 43.

According to Baseball-reference.com, Bradley ranks 104th among 108 Sox rookies all-time in batting average among players with at least 300 or more at-bats.

Red Morgan batted .215 in his only season in the big leagues. Mike Ryan hit .214 as a rookie and batted .193 in 11 seasons as a backup catcher. Heinie Wagner hit .213 in his first season and batted .250 in a 12-year career, mostly as a reserve. Hal Janvrin hit .207 as a rookie and .232 over 10 years.

Wouldn't seem to bode well for Bradley, until you see the 102nd name on the list: Dwight Evans, who ended up having a pretty fair career.

Bradley's average is lowest among all American League center fielders since Mike Cameron, who hit .210 in 1998 but went on to hit 278 home runs and steal 297 bases in a 17-year career.

Farrell said before the game that eventually Bradley will gain regular playing time again.

"We need it to increase," he said. "Yet there's a stretch of time here [in which] we're addressing some things. He's aware of the approach. [We] sat down and met with him on what the thought is. I don't want him to be questioning his abilities, or where does he stand.''

Judging by Bradley's remarks, Farrell needn't worry about Bradley questioning his abilities.

"I know what I'm capable of,'' he said. "I feel like I've played well pretty much my whole life. This is my first true struggle at this game.

"I can't emphasize it enough, but this is not going to deter my career. I know it's one of those things [where] I'm learning myself as a ballplayer, learning what I can do very well. I'm going to use that in order to transfer that into other parts of my game.''

And how is that done?

"Instead of focusing on what you don't do well, the pitch you can't hit, I'm going to focus on what I can,'' he said. "I'm going to be selective with my approach at the plate.

"I feel like it's going to happen in a way where you're going to ask, 'How did it happen? How did all of a sudden it just switch?' I'm going to say, 'That's pretty much how I've always been.' ''

Bradley, it should be remembered, had fewer than 1,000 professional at-bats (819) before becoming the team's everyday center fielder. Dustin Pedroia had over 1,000. David Ortiz had over 2,000. Mike Napoli had 1,756.

Bradley acknowledged he has had trouble handling fastballs, but predicted that this, too, shall pass.

"It doesn't matter if it's high speed or not, 95, it doesn't matter the speed of the pitch, honestly,'' he said. "I'm going to get back to being me, my athletic swing. I'm getting all the other clutter out of the way. I'm no longer tinkering with, 'Try this, try that.'

"There's a point to where you listen and you try. Well, when I was doing it the way I was accustomed to doing, it wasn't 'trying,' it was just doing. It's all I've ever done in this game. I never gave any thought about doing it, I just did it. That's what I'm going to get back to doing.''

Bradley's uncommon maturity is one reason the Sox have stuck with him throughout his struggles.

"I'm still the same person,'' he said. "I'm definitely not going to let these struggles affect me. One day I'm going to look back on this and say I'm glad I went through that. Anybody who struggles even a little bit can come to me. 'Let me help you.' I struggled more than a little bit, and I'm going to get through it.''