‘New’ Bradley embraces familiar challenge

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is something different about Archie Bradley this spring.

While cleaning up from his annual New Year’s Eve party this off-season, the dirty blonde locks Diamondbacks fans were accustomed to see flow from under Bradley’s hat had become too much. Bradley on Jan. 1 cut his hair for the first time in 15 months.

"It’s a new year and a new me," Bradley said with a smile.

The more manageable ‘do is just the superficial embodiment of Bradley’s shift.

A year after he forced his way into the starting rotation out of spring training, Bradley again looks to do so after his strong debut fizzled with two trips to the disabled list, a trip back to the minor leagues and then a callback that didn’t happen in September.

"I’m sick of the ‘prospect’ label or ‘he’s coming.’ I want to be here," Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley said. "I want to spend the whole year in the big leagues."

Bradley worked with new pitching coach Mike Butcher to tweak his mechanics. He dedicated himself more, primarily in the mental aspect, to his craft. And he’s a year older.

"I think Archie’s grown up," manager Chip Hale said. "His maturity level is way up."

Bradley is in a battle for a rotation sport for the third straight spring. Like the first two, the 23-year-old isn’t considered the favorite — this year, that is left-hander Robbie Ray. But Bradley is at peace, he says, with his situation.

That does not mean the former first-round pick’s goal changed, and he spoke candidly about the end game.

"I’m sick of the ‘prospect’ label or ‘he’s coming.’ I want to be here," Bradley said. "I want to spend the whole year in the big leagues.

"I sat down after (last) year ended and looked at the year in review, the ups and downs, the struggles, everything. It was huge eye-opening experience, a huge maturation process. I just remember I wanted to set goals for this year and I wanted to have a new attitude. It’s easily the hardest I’ve worked and the smartest I’ve worked. Last year is in the past. A new year, a new me."

Bradley’s strong start last year — he was 2-0 with a 1.45 ERA in his first four starts — was derailed by a line drive that struck him in the face. He came back as soon as he could, but the play stuck with him and a shoulder injury followed.

Once healthy again, Bradley was optioned to Triple-A Reno and did not return.

"I left a lot on the table, I think," said Bradley, still considered a Top 100 prospect in the game but no longer the D-backs top prospect. "I just feel like I have a whole lot more to prove. And not to anyone else, but to myself."

The arrival of new pitching coach Mike Butcher, with a fresh set of eyes and a clean slate, gives Bradley that opportunity.

Whether it was a reaction to the scary comebacker or overcompensating for his shoulder, Bradley used at least three different deliveries last season.

"I saw a guy who looked like he was trying to learn his delivery," Butcher said of the video of Bradley he watched. "I saw some things where we could smooth him out, make him for functional and really kind of use his leverage to get the ball where he wants it to go.

"I give all the credit to him. It was something he needed to do and wanted to do. He came in with an open mind and has made some nice adjustments so far."

Hale took notice of Bradley’s bullpen sessions early in camp. But it will be in Cactus League game, which begin Wednesday, where the team’s final rotation spot will be won. Bradley likely will pitch Wednesday against the Rockies.

"Robbie threw well last year. I understand that," Bradley said. "But for me it’s all about me. It’s not about the competition with Robbie or (Zack) Godley or (Tyler) Wagner. It’s all about me pitching well. It’s not cockiness. I believe in myself. If I pitch the way I know I can then I can win that job."

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