PHILADELPHIA – After spending nearly five full seasons in the minor leagues at the Single-A and Double-A levels, then watching from the bullpen as the Braves won the first two games following his long-awaited call-up Thursday, Jed Bradley finally realized his dream of pitching in the major leagues Saturday.
The wait was worth it.
The former Georgia Tech left-hander got a win in his major league debut, retiring all three batters he faced in the ninth inning before the Braves scored twice in the 10th to beat the Phillies, 6-4.
“I’m not going to lie, it kind of took me by surprise,” Bradley said of getting called upon in the ninth inning with the score tied for his major league debut. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around that whole deal, but glad it turned out the way it did.”
Bradley, 26, threw nine strikes in 12 pitches and felt his heart skip a beat at least once. He struck out pinch-hitter Tyler Goeddel to start the inning, then induced a ground out from Freddy Galvis, but only after watching Galvis hit towering fly ball sailed just outside the left-field foul pole, perhaps 10 feet separating it from a walk-off homer.
“I might have had a minor coronary,” Bradley said of his reaction to the long foul ball. “I was yelling at the baseball the whole time. I was just really glad it hooked foul.”
Tommy Joseph hit a routine fly out to end the inning, and Bradley’s work was done.
“Honestly I was just relieved,” he said of getting called in the bullpen to make his debut. “A lot of waiting until now, so when they called my name it kind of became more normal. I could just go out and play the game…. I try and keep pressure low. I try to take it one pitch at a time, not think about the situation or the arena, where you’re at and what you’re doing. Just try and take one pitch at a time, stay in the moment and enjoy it. This is a blast.”
Still flying a bit on adrenaline, he watched the Braves score twice in the 10th on a couple of ground balls that never left the infield, after they’d loaded the bases on two walks (one intentional) sandwiched around a Freddie Freeman single.
And then Bradley watched rookie Mauricio Cabrera, his teammate earlier this season at Double-A Mississippi, pitch a perfect 10th inning for his fourth save.
“I was pumped to see his 102-mile-per-hour fastball come in to save it for me,” Bradley said, smiling while he talked with reporters, as teammates continued to congratulate him as they walked past his locker on their way to the showers.
It was some pretty heady stuff for Bradley, a former first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers who had been written off as a bust by many observers and was shipped to the Braves in a June 2 trade for cash or a player to be named later, a deal that was barely a blip on the baseball radar for anyone outside of Bradley’s family.
But something clicked for him after the trade. After posting a 6.20 ERA in 17 relief appearances this season for the Brewers’ Double-A Biloxie affiliate in the Southern League, Bradley had a 2.35 ERA in 15 games (10 starts) for the Braves’ Mississippi team in the same league.
In 65 innings at Mississippi, he had career-bests in ERA (2.35) and strikeout rate (9.55 per nine innings), totaling 69 strikeouts with 23 walks and no home runs allowed.
He kept it up after an Aug. 20 promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 18 innings, and suddenly was called up by the Braves, who needed another lefty in their bullpen.
It took him most of five years to get from A-ball to Triple-A, but barely two weeks to go from there to his first major league win.
“It’s been a blessing,” Bradley said. “An absolute blessing. It’s just proof you’re never out of a fight, you know? My career didn’t start the way I wanted it to or a lot of people thought it would. But you’re never out of it. I thank God for it.”