Five months ago Jackie Bradley Jr. was touted as the second coming of Willie Mays.

Turns out the Red Sox only need him to be as good as Jacoby Ellsbury.

It’s a request that’s every bit as unfair as the hype that followed Bradley out of spring training. Ellsbury has been among the Sox’ most consistent hitters especially since late May. The center fielder is the top-of-the-order catalyst to say nothing of the majors’ most prolific base stealer. And based on the sabermetric measure WAR he’s the Red Sox’ third-most irreplaceable player behind right fielder Shane Victorino and second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

But Ellsbury also is confined to a walking boot having suffered a compression fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot. The Sox are hopeful he will be able to play before the regular season ends but realistically they can’t be sure not when other players with the same injury have typically needed at least a month to heal and Ellsbury’s success is predicated so heavily on his legs.

That’s where Bradley comes in. The 23-year-old has long been the heir apparent in center field albeit not until after this season when free agency whisks Ellsbury off to Seattle or Texas or another suitor that flashes a long-term contract with nine figures.
So perhaps Bradley’s timetable will be accelerated by a few months. Can he handle it?

“I don’t know how long Jacoby’s out but I have faith in (manager) John (Farrell) putting Jackie’s name in the lineup every day and Jackie helping the ball club every day” Triple-A Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said by phone yesterday with the AL East-leading Red Sox idle before opening a series tonight against the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg Fla.

“I’ve seen it. I know John and the major league staff have seen it too just not as consistently as we have down here.”

Indeed Bradley is only 11-for-64 (.172) with two homers and a .284 on-base percentage over four stints in the majors including a season-opening 3-for-31 spell. And from a statistical view he didn’t exactly light up Triple A either batting .275 with 10 homers and 35 RBI while nevertheless posting an impressive .374 on-base percentage in 80 games.

There have been flashes of the spring training hot streak that earned Bradley a spot on the Opening Day roster. Overall though he remains a work in progress at the plate.

DiSarcina attributes Bradley’s inconsistency to irregular playing time while being yo-yoed between Triple A and the majors. In early July for instance he was in the midst of a 17-game stretch in which he was batting .297 with four homers when the Red Sox called him up to fill in for Ellsbury. But he made one start and got only seven at-bats in four games before being sent back down and falling into a 7-for-42 funk.