This is the line hitting coach Victor Rodriguez has installed in the cage to help Jackie Bradley Jr. maintain a short, level swing and stay on top of the ball. (Rob Bradford/WEEI.com)

Jackie Bradley Jr. literally putting it all on the line

John Tomase
February 13, 2015 - 11:58 am
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Visitors to Jackie Bradley's batting cage at JetBlue Park might think he was getting ready to hang some laundry. A rope stretches across a screen in the right-handed batter's box at roughly eye level, and Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez believes it holds the key to Bradley regaining the form that made him a top-flight prospect before a disastrous 2014 cast his future into doubt. The purpose is simple -- Bradley shouldn't swing at anything over the line. By forcing him to consciously swing down on the ball, Rodriguez hopes Bradley can rediscover the approach he utilized throughout the minors, when he looked like a potential leadoff hitter. "Staying under the line means staying on top of the ball," Rodriguez said by phone on Friday. "You've got to stay short and through the ball. It's a target that you visualize, and it forces you to stay on top." Bradley moved to Naples after the season and has been working out in and around JetBlue for more than a month and a half. Rodriguez believes the results have caught the attention of manager John Farrell and other members of the coaching staff. "Guys who haven't seen him -- [hitting coach] Chili Davis, the manager, the coaches -- they've been real happy with what they've seen," Rodriguez said. "To give him credit, he's put in a lot of good time to get it done." In 530 plate appearances over the last two seasons, Bradley has hit only .196 with a .548 OPS. Both numbers rank in the bottom three in baseball. The struggles took a mental toll and led to reports that Bradley stubbornly resisted the advice of his coaches. Rodriguez views it a little differently. "I've been with him for a while," he said. "I saw him in the minor leagues. You want him to do what he's capable of doing. The last two years, he really didn't show that, or at least what he showed me in the minor leagues. "What's more, he believes in himself so much that he trusted what he was doing and really didn't want to go out and try something different. A lot of times we gave him opinions and he probably thought that his way was going to be better. It's tough, because he believes in himself so much, and he wanted to go his way. "I believe that was a learning year for him. All that is behind him. He really wants to do things the right way. I'm very positive that this guy's going in the right direction." The fruit of Bradley's labors will be apparent this spring. If he hits, he'll force himself back onto the big league radar, even in a crowded outfield. If he doesn't, we might never see him in a Red Sox uniform again. All Rodriguez knows is that he's not closing to giving up on Bradley, as he made clear when asked what kind of player Bradley can be if he figures things out at the plate. "Oh my dear Lord," Rodriguez said. "Something good. I know his name is not mentioned too much. But the defensive ability this guy has, if he's able to bring that offensive part of the game on a consistent basis, I think we've got something good, something really good. "And for me, it's not a bad thing that Jackie Bradley will come out and show people the kind of player he is. It's going to benefit the team."