PEORIA, Ariz. – Milton Bradley sat out his only chance to play his former team this spring.
He shouldn’t get used to the day off.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu gave Bradley a peculiarly timed Sunday off against the Chicago Cubs but said Seattle’s winter acquisition will be his everyday cleanup hitter to begin the season.
“Milton right now feels good,” Wakamatsu said, before pitching batting practice to Bradley and then taking him inside to a batting cage for extra work Sunday morning. “We’re pretty confident he’s getting the at-bats he needs and he’s going to be fine. We think he’s in a good place.”
Sunday’s rest defused a potentially touchy reunion with the Cubs, for whom the 31-year-old former All-Star began a tumultuous 2009 in the cleanup spot. He lasted just 19 games in that place with Chicago, batting .179 with just two home runs and five RBI at cleanup. He hit just .257 overall with 12 home runs and 40 RBI before getting suspended by the team for a run-in with his hitting coach. He later said the team and city mistreated him.
That prompted a response earlier in spring training from Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who said: “I think it’s time maybe Milton looked himself in the mirror. He just didn’t swing the bat. He didn’t get the job done. It’s really unfortunate that you … try to use the other areas for excuses.”
Hendry said signing Bradley to a three-year, $30 million contract before last season was “a mistake.” He added the atmosphere of the entire organization has improved since the outfielder was traded to Seattle for pitcher Carlos Silva in December.
Sunday, Bradley cut off an attempt for an interview by three Chicago writers by saying “no chance” and “beat it.” He told the writers “you ran me out of town,” then flashed a peace sign and said, “peace.”
Cubs manager Lou Piniella asked about Bradley before the game.
“How’s Milton doing? Tell him I said hi,” Piniella said.
“He got off to a little bit of a rocky start with the bat. He’s certainly very capable of being a productive fourth hitter. He’s over there in Seattle, and we wish him well.”
Piniella said he didn’t think the media “ran” Bradley out of Chicago.
“I don’t think the media was unfair to anybody,” he said. “Look, the amazing thing about Milton was he played in a lot of ball games and he played hard when he played. He just didn’t, offensively, do the things that Jim envisioned when we brought him over here. But, look, he’s a Mariner. We got Silva. We’re happy with Silva, he’s in our rotation. So let’s hope that both players have a positive impact for both teams.”
Bradley has generally been a happy camper with the Mariners this month. He’s been laughing alongside locker neighbor Ken Griffey Jr. and stealing bases, plowing into catchers at the plate and devilishly laying down bunts during spring games.
Last week, the former Expo, Indian, Dodger, Athletic, Padre, Ranger and Cub told the Associated Press: “If I was a musician, I’d be Kanye West. If I was in the NBA, I’d be Ron Artest. In baseball, they’ve got Milton Bradley.
“I’m that guy. You need people like me, so you can point your finger and go, ‘There goes the bad guy.’ ”
The offensively challenged Mariners are in need of a happy, productive Bradley – or a happy, productive anyone.
Wakamatsu reiterated that the No. 3 hitter ahead of Bradley, in the other key run-production spot, will be new first baseman Casey Kotchman. Kotchman has never hit more than 12 home runs or driven in more than 68 runs in a season, and is better known as a defensive whiz.
Wakamatsu says Bradley will play left field most days for Seattle. He will also be an occasional designated hitter against left-handed starters to give the 40-year-old Griffey a break. Griffey had his second arthroscopic knee surgery in 12 months in October to remove a bone spur.
“I’ve talked to Milton about being the DH against some lefties,” Wakamatsu said. “Given the issues we’ve had with Griffey’s knee, we can massage (the lineup).”
Though he struggled in the cleanup spot for the Cubs, Bradley has thrived there previously. The two seasons the former leadoff hitter batted cleanup the most were in 2003 and ’08. He hit .321 in ’03 during his final season with Cleveland, and again had a .321 average with a career-high 22 home runs and was an All-Star with Texas while batting fourth 114 times in ’08.