It surely must have been a source of tremendous gratification to Grady Sizemore to come out on Opening Day and swing the bat so well, garnering a couple of hits, including a homer. Not too bad for a guy who’d not swung a bat in anger for more than two years. Sox management must have been pleased as well, to see the object of an off-season roll of the dice come up boxcars. However, in the span of only a week or so, the Grady Gambit has been transformed from a, “Gee it would sure be nice,” story to a, “We really need him to play well and regularly,” one.
How’d this happen? First, Jackie Bradley, Jr., the pre-season odds-on favorite to win the centerfield job, has looked tentative and overmatched at the plate. He isn’t making contact and is striking out far too much; and this from the very beginning of Spring Training. And then on the virtual eve of the opener, Shane Victorino pulled a hamstring in the last Spring Training game and went on the DL. Sources say he’s going to be out for approximately 3 weeks. Yikes! Quickly, name another Sox outfielder besides Sizemore, Bradley and Victorino who has ever played centerfield regularly. The answer is: there aren’t any.
So, at least at the outset of the season, it’ll be Grady in there maybe 5 days out of 7 or something like that. Bradley really has to demonstrate to the club that he brings more to the team than his speed and a fine glove. He will get a chance, because the team is simply not going to take any long-term risks with Sizemore by overplaying him in the early part of the season. On the big club, only Daniel Nava could spell Sizemore/Bradley for a few games, but he is certainly not equipped to play there every day. In the minors Bryce Brentz made strides last year, has some pop in his bat and is on the 40 man roster. But he is not likely to get a call this early in the season.
As for Victorino’s return, who knows? He was hurt virtually all of Spring Training and played in only 11 exhibition games. I love the way he plays, but I wish he’d do it more often. As well as he plays Fenway’s big right field, the team would love to keep him there, but he certainly can play at least an adequate center. But that’s just wishful thinking for the next three weeks or so.
So it comes to this: Sizemore, six or seven weeks ago just an afterthought as camp opened, is now being counted on to be their regular centerfielder. Can he stay healthy? Can he be in there on at least a semi-regular basis?
The Grady Gambit has turned into the Grady Gotta Have Him.