FORT MYERS, Fla. — Midway through spring training, center field has taken center stage for the Red Sox.
Grady Sizemore looks and (more importantly) feels better every day. Not only is he beginning to resemble a viable opening day center fielder and leadoff hitter, but when the Red Sox recently clocked him running from home to first in 4.2 seconds, manager John Farrell could have sworn he was watching Sizemore circa 2008, before a slew of surgeries and when he ranked among the most dynamic players in the American League.
“When he was in his prime, or when he was right, he was 4.14,” said Farrell, the Indians’ farm director when Sizemore was coming up with Cleveland. “He’s not far off in terms of the running speed, pre-injury.”
This week, Sizemore even has progressed to playing back-to-back games, the next step in his comeback bid from microfracture surgery on both knees. And if he’s able to do that regularly for the rest of the month, he will have passed the final test of whether the Sox can count on him as an everyday player, which was precisely what they hoped he would become when they took an incentive-filled, $750,000 flier on him in January.
But where would that leave Jackie Bradley Jr.?
There isn’t room on the roster for Sizemore and Bradley, not with a job-sharing arrangement already in place in left field with Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava. Backup catcher David Ross, utility infielder Jonathan Herrera and super-sub Mike Carp round out the bench and play well-defined roles.
The Sox still view Bradley as their future center fielder, but if the job was his to lose when camp began, a shift may be taking place. To hear Farrell talk, it sounds increasingly like the decision will come down to Sizemore’s ability to stay on the field.
“The competition’s there,” Farrell said, “but we haven’t arrived at a conclusion with Grady yet. We still have to get answers to some questions that aren’t there yet. And then there’s still going to be that looming question of what’s the total number of games played.”
Said Sizemore: “I’m not hesitant or worried about anything. If I were thinking along those lines, I wouldn’t be ready to play.”
With more than two weeks of exhibition games still remaining, the Sizemore-Bradley duel is only just beginning. At this point, though, one of two scenarios seem likely. Either Sizemore wins the job outright and Bradley heads back to Triple A to continue developing as a hitter, or Sizemore begins the season in extended spring training, buying more time for the Red Sox to determine whether his body can hold up under the rigors of an everyday role after seven surgeries in the past 4-1/2 years.
Regardless, Bradley insists he isn’t sweating it.
“I think you have to look at it individually,” he said. “Competition’s competition. That’s what we do. We all compete. That’s what drives us. With that aspect, you do the best you can and let everything else take care of itself.”
SOX NOTES: Third baseman Will Middlebrooks set off alarms by committing one error and misplaying another ball in a March 5 game against the Miami Marlins. But Middlebrooks has worked hard long hours with infield coach Brian Butterfield, an Orono native, on his defense, and on March 11, he forced out Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy at second base with a no-look glove flip to shortstop Deven Marrero. And Middlebrooks also has gotten a vote of confidence from Red Sox manager John Farrell, who expects the third baseman to more closely approximate his promising rookie season of 2012 than his disappointment of last year, when he got sent to Triple A for seven weeks midway through the season. “He’s our third baseman,” Farrell said. “He’s got a profile of skills that you’re not going to find many places. He profiles the position well, and it’s our job to continue to have that confidence grow and address any deficiencies that might exist.”