Monday night, Jackie Bradley Jr. started his fourth game of the season and put on one hell of a show. A 3-for-4 night saw the Red Sox' young outfielder score a run and drive in two more, providing the offense with a much-needed engine despite batting ninth.
That, however, is just one game. Sure, Bradley has his OPS up over .800 now, but the sample size is pretty minuscule, so any appeals to season stats should rightfully fall on deaf ears. But it's not Bradley's bat that should be earning him playing time, no matter how much it seems to have improved since 2013.
No, the reason Jackie Bradley Jr. should be playing every day--or near enough to it--is his glove. We saw that on display Monday night as well, with Bradley making a pair of fantastic plays to keep the Rangers from getting to John Lackey for more than one run. While small sample size might be enough to discredit the early results from Bradley's bat as inconclusive, the same is not true for his defense. His glove has been ready for some time, after all, leaving us expecting this sort of defensive performance since before his major league debut.
That glove stands in stark contrast to the sort of performances we've been seeing in the outfield in this first week of baseball. Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Mike Carp have all had their gaffes. Dives as poorly conceived as they were executed, circuitous routes, and even instances of misplaying the Monster--something Nava and Gomes, at least, had made an art form out of in 2013. For all that Boston's offense has had to shoulder the blame for most of their early losses, the defense has been downright tragic at times, particularly in the outfield.
When Shane Victorino returns, the story might change, at least on a game-to-game basis. Particularly at home, Bradley is something of a waste in left field, particularly given the offensive potential of the Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes platoon. Even in that situation Bradley should probably see a fair bit of playing time, with him, Victorino, and Sizemore forming a rotation in right and center field to keep the latter two healthy. Unfortunately, that just leaves us with the same problem that we ended spring training with: too many players for too few roster spots. And unless there's new developments on the Mike Carp trade front, it's unlikely the organization will allow a couple weeks worth of performances to change the decision they made back in March to send Bradley down.
Until that time comes, however, the Red Sox need to make the best use of the pieces they have on hand. If Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes could ever be expected to hit the same starting pitcher, or if Mike Carp weren't such a disaster in the outfield, that might not mean Jackie Bradley Jr. starting every game. But they can't, he is, and it does. Whether he's hitting or not, it's time for Jackie Bradley Jr. to start.