Big League Stew

Spring Swing ’14 — Pedroia and Red Sox go for title defense

David Brown
Big League Stew

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(AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A year ago at this time, the Boston Red Sox were hopeful but uncertain. The front office had completed a housecleaning that included the team's roster, its manager and some unhelpful attitudes. The new faces in camp blended with the old and promised something better than the 69-93 record of 2012 — it was just a matter of doing it.

And so they did it, taking the AL East with 97 victories and winning Boston's third World Series in a 10-year span. The task at hand in 2014, trying to repeat, isn't really all that different. Just like in 2013, it will take significant preparation, hard work, peak performance and good fortune.

The Stew continues its spring training tour with a visit to the Red Sox, who were not only the best team in the majors in 2013, but also the most bearded. Dustin Pedroia has a little less hair on his face (and his head) than a season ago, but his thumb has healed after surgery to repair ligaments in November, and he's not the least bit worried about it — nor is he behind the curve for spring workouts.

"I'm healthy, the thumb feels great and I'm on schedule," Pedroia said.

Pedroia decided against having surgery during the season and posted the lowest slugging percentage of his career, outside of his pre-Rookie of the Year call-up in 2006. He still batted .301/.372/.415 and continued to play great defense. This season could be better for him personally.

"If my thumb being healthy leads to more power, then great," Pedroia said. "But all I can try to do it get hits. You can't worry about going up there and trying to hit a home run in a certain at-bat. Being healthy will help though. Hopefully, I'll get back to generating bat speed like I have in the past."

Pedroia told reporters when he got to camp Sunday that all of what happened last year won't just transfer to this one. Each season has its similarities, with lessons to be learned, but it's also a fresh start — whether you win the World Series or lose 93 games.

“I’m not thinking anything about last year," Pedroia said. "I’m thinking about today’s practice and what we’ve got to do."

And what they have to do is a lot of unglamorous exercises and drills. But that's how any team gets better, even one with a big payroll and star players like the Red Sox have. The Red Sox also have a lot of uncertainties — in some ways, as many as they did a year ago, just without the feeling of needing to overcome a dreadful period in their history. It was a happy team in 2013. Their attitude is one thing they don't need to change. But they do have plenty of questions:

• How will Brandon Workman work out as the fifth (or even fourth) starter with Ryan Dempster gone into temporary retirement?

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• Will prospect Jackie Bradley take the center field job, or can Grady Sizemore beat him out after sitting out for two seasons recovering from injuries? What if they both fail? What if they both succeed?

• How close can closer Koji Uehara come to repeating his unprecedented success of 2013? And if he doesn't, are the Red Sox deep enough in the bullpen to cover him?

• Will they get a full, great season out of Clay Buchholz?

• Can Will Middlebrooks develop into an everyday third baseman?

• Xander Bogaerts appears to be on his way to becoming a great player at short. But will it all come together this season, as his performance down the stretch and in the playoffs last year suggested it can?

The Red Sox haven't won back-to-back titles since 1915 and 1916, when their best players were guys like Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker. If they're looking at something new and different to shoot for to motivate themselves, there it is. Be like Babe and Tris.

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David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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