By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) _ The Red Sox had a big lead in last year’s opener at Yankee Stadium. Still, Dustin Pedroia slid headfirst trying to beat out his grounder.
Bad decision, especially with Boston ahead 8-2 in the ninth inning.
The win-at-all-costs second baseman tore a ligament in his left thumb, then missed just two games the rest of the season.
“It was the most impressive thing I watched all year. The thumb was totally black,” third-base and infield coach Brian Butterfield said Monday. “He didn’t want anybody to know about it.”
So it’s not surprising that Pedroia downplayed how much it bothered him.
“A little bit, but it’s fine now,” he said. “It’s fixed up, man. It’s good. It’s good to go.”
Pedroia had surgery to repair his torn ulnar collateral ligament 14 days after the Red Sox won the World Series in Game 6 against St. Louis. He wore a cast for about a month. Then he worked on regaining his strength.
And on Monday he took batting practice three days before the first official full-squad workout.
His attitude, typically, is upbeat.
“The rehab was great,” Pedroia said. “I feel healthy and there’s no setbacks, no restrictions or anything.”
The Red Sox won their second title in four years in 2007 and Pedroia was named AL rookie of the year.
In 2008, he was the league’s MVP, but the Red Sox lost the AL championship series despite leading 1-0 in Game 7 through three innings against Tampa Bay.
“That was a huge letdown,” Pedroia said. “You don’t want that feeling.”
He tried to keep that from happening last year when the Red Sox were in first place through the first 34 games. He was hitting .311 at that point and wasn’t about to take time off because of his thumb with so much at stake.
Pedroia did even better in the next 10 games. He went 18 for 40 to raise his average to .343.
“The first month and a half he hit with one hand and he played with one hand,” Butterfield said, “but he never even blinked. He’s so impressive in so many ways and he showed unbelievable toughness.”
His average never dropped below .291 for the season and he ended at .301 while leading the AL with 724 plate appearances. He tied for second in the AL in hits and was second in the league in fielding percentage among second basemen.
The only games he took off were on June 16 and in the regular-season finale Sept. 29. The Red Sox lost both.
Pedroia’s injury reduced his power and he hit just nine homers, the fewest since he had eight in his rookie season. But he compensated by taking shorter swings and hitting more to the opposite field.
“We had half of him, but he fought through it and he still was a highly productive player,” Butterfield said. “He just kept playing and kept grinding and didn’t flinch once. He never complained and just tried to find every way he could to make his game the most comfortable because I know early on he was playing with a lot of pain.”
Not that Pedroia would admit it.
“You just figure it out,” he said. “You just try to get hits, man. That’s it.”
With the Red Sox not re-signing shortstop Stephen Drew, Pedroia has a new double-play partner in rookie Xander Bogaerts. Pedroia knows he’ll find a way to make that work, too.
“We all take ground balls a lot,” he said. “Bogey’s going to be fine. (Butterfield) will make sure that everybody’s on the same page in the infield and our defense. We know what we’re doing.”
Healthy or not, Pedroia showed that he certainly does.
And Butterfield still raves about that.
“I get chill bumps when I start talking about him,” Butterfield said. “He does anything that he can to try to win a game. He’s as tough as they come.”
NOTES: Manager John Farrell said Grady Sizemore will be used in left and center field during spring training. The former Cleveland Indian missed the past two seasons with knee and back problems. Jackie Bradley Jr. is getting the first shot at replacing Jacoby Ellsbury, now with the New York Yankees, in center field. Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes are back after sharing left field last year. … LHP Jon Lester said it would be “great” if he could get a contract extension in spring training but he’s focusing on preparing for the season. The club picked up his $13 million option for 2014.
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