EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 2, 2013

Dream duo: Watching Ellsbury, Bradley play together should be fun

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — I wrote a column last year comparing Jackie Bradley Jr.’s first full professional season in the minor leagues to Jacoby Ellsbury’s.

The premise was to draw comparisons between the Red Sox current center fielder to his eventual successor.

I didn’t envision then that Ellsbury and Bradley would be starting side-by-side, Bradley in left and Ellsbury in center field, come Opening Day 2013.

Together the two make for a potential dream duo to watch based on their athleticism, pop and defense.

Both sparked Boston’s Opening Day 8-2 victory over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium yesterday. The win marked the first time since 2010 the Red Sox have begun a season 1-0.

Ellsbury went 3 for 6 with two RBIs, a triple and run.

Bradley used his speed to make a sensational running catch on a deep drive to the warning track in left field, ending the third inning. He also drew three walks. The first one helped fuel a four-run second inning. He later put the Red Sox ahead 5-2 in the seventh with an RBI fielder’s choice.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves by calling Ellsbury and Bradley “the dream duo” just yet. After all, yesterday was Bradley’s major league debut and Ellsbury still has a little something to prove himself after batting .271 with only four homers during an injury-plagued 74-game season last year.

But these two will be very entertaining to watch play together if Ellsbury remains healthy and reaches his capability offensively and if Bradley works professional at-bats like he did yesterday.

Both Bradley and Ellsbury aren’t your father’s Red Sox. They have similar athleticism to Los Angeles’ Mike Trout and Washington’s Bryce Harper and those two certainly are a joy for any true baseball fan to watch.

Both Bradley and Ellsbury play impeccable defense, too.

Bradley and Ellsbury, along with three-time Gold-Glover Shane Victorino, in right field, make for a defensive dream-team. Ellsbury won a Gold Glove in 2011. Bradley has terrific range, which of course was on display during the third inning yesterday, and he has an excellent arm, too. One of his throws from the outfield in high school was clocked at 101 mph.

Bradley’s first at-bat yesterday was especially impressive. He battled back after falling behind 0-2 in the count. He laid off a couple of tough pitches from Yankees ace CC Sabathia before walking.

Ellsbury and Bradley have a somewhat similar offensive style mixed with speed and pop.

We all know Ellsbury has pop. When he finished second in the AL MVP voting in 2011, he stroked 83 extra base hits (32 homers, 46 doubles, 5 triples) in 158 games, posted a .928 OPS and stole 39 bases. He also led the league with 364 total bases.

Bradley, likewise, was an extra-base machine in Single and Double A last year. He stroked 55 extra base hits (42 doubles, 9 homers, 4 doubles) in 128 minor league games in 2012 as a 22-year-old. He also swiped 24 bases.

Bradley actually stroked 23 more extra-base hits last year than Ellsbury stroked at the same age during his first full professional season (split between Single and Double A) in 2006 — although Bradley played 17 more games than Ellsbury did.

It appears Ellsbury has more speed and home-run power than Bradley. But Bradley should eventually be better at getting on base.

The rookie might just be the next Greek God of Walks. Despite hitting .229 during the final month last year in Double-A, Bradley still finished the year with a sensational .430 on-base percentage.

His approach certainly looks much more mature than most 22-year-olds. If he remains patient and waits for his pitch, then he will be fine — and his athleticism will speak for itself.

As for Ellsbury, he must hit for power here in April with David Ortiz sidelined for the first month or maybe more.

Ellsbury hit just .266 during April 2011 and stroked just six of his 32 homers that year during April and May combined. Ellsbury must get out to a faster start this year — it’s as simple as that.

Yesterday’s game was just one game — just one win — but there were a lot of positives.

Shane Victorino had two hits and three RBIs in his Red Sox debut. Jon Lester’s cutter for the most part looked strong in his 5.0 innings. The Red Sox bullpen was excellent, combining for four scoreless innings. Boston also showed some enthusiasm and hustle, such as when Jonny Gomes scored from second in the ninth on a hit to shallow right. Jose Iglesias had three infield hits, too.

And Ellsbury and Bradley definitely were two positives. If they can continue to be, this year will get a lot more interesting.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 2 Sox No. 1 Star: This award doesn't go to just one player but the entire bullpen's effort. Five Red Sox relievers combined to hurl 4.0 scoreless innings. Koji Uehara got it started in sixth, retiring the side in order on five pitches, all strikes. Lester's line: Starting pitcher Jon Lester went 5.0 innings, allowing two runs, both earned, on five hits and two walks while striking out seven. Both of his runs came in the fourth inning. Decision of the Day: Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia earned the start despite entering 3 for 14 (.214) with one RBI vs. Yankees starter CC Sabathia compared to backup David Ross' 4 for 13 (.308) with two homers and three RBIs vs. Sabathia. It probably was just an Opening Day formality to go with the starting catcher, but it worked. Saltalamacchia went 1 for 2 with a double, three walks and two runs. Biggest hit: Despite being criticized for a lack of bat speed during the WBC and spring training, Shane Victorino got off to a good start yesterday by stroking a two-run single to put Boston ahead 3-0 in the second inning. Victorino went 2 for 6 with three RBIs.