There are more tests still to come, and nothing is yet assured. But no matter what else happens this spring, Monday was a very good day for Grady Sizemore.
The outfielder, who is attempting a comeback after missing all of the last two seasons (and good portions of the two previous prior to that), collected three hits and made two spectacular catches in the outfield.
"It felt good," said Sizemore in the aftermath of the Red Sox' 10-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "It was good to just kind of get some action out there in the outfield, get on the bases and just put together a good game. I'm just happy to be healthy and be out there, playing and being able to do those things. Hopefully, I can build off of that and put these kind of days together back-to-back and still feel good and stray healthy and stay at it.'
"Obviously, a very good day," concluded John Farrell, "on both sides of the ball. Very good defense, fearless as we saw. And as we've talked about the timing at the plate, left-handed pitching, right-handed pitching, he's put very good swing on pitches. Maybe this was a little bit of a flashback to how good Grady was for a number of years."
Sizemore's highlight reel began in the first inning, when he raced to the warning track in center, hauled in a long flyball from the Cardinals' David Descalso and held on as his momentum carried him into the wall.
"It kind of crept up on me before I really knew it was there," said Sizemore. "The wind was blowing pretty good and I hit [the wall] pretty hard but it hit me so fast, I wasn't able to brace so it actually didn't hurt too bad. I'm sure it will be a little sore tomrrow, but I was lucky enough to catch it and come out with no injuries."
At the plate, Sizemore singled to right in the third, singled again in the fifth and doubled in the sixth.
In addition, he also made a diving catch on a sinking liner by John Jay, robbing him of extra bases.
Sizemore was asked which was more satisfying: his three hits or two circus catches?
"I'm not really focused on one or the other," he said. "It's just being able to make those plays, have good at-bats, get on base. Just get back into baseball shape, stay healthy and progress in my rehab."
The tricky part for the Red Sox is not knowing how well Sizemore will hold up to the rigors of the regular season.
"When you consider an everyday player and the number of games we're going to ask an everyday player to play," said Farrell, "we don't have that many games in spring training. He's passing every physical test to date. He came out of today feeling fine, even with all the activity that he had. So we continue on."
Two weeks remain before the start of the season, and the Red Sox aren't forced to make any decisions yet. Time is their ally and they'll take as much as the calendar gives them.
"We're staying very open-minded to this," said Farrell. "Our memory serves us well. We know what kind of player he was. But we've got to stay open-minded to the evaluation of spring training and see how he's performed. And he's performed very well. Every day he walks on the field is [passing a test]. Whether or not we determined that three conseuctive days is a benchmark or question to be answered remains to be seen. But our whole goal in this is to continue to build him and keep him on an incline, rather than overloading it so early that there's any kind of setback.
"The best thing I can say is that he's responding favorably to everything we've put him through."
Other issues await, too. Can the Sox have Sizemore as their regular center fielder and have Jackie Bradley Jr. on the roster, too, to provide insurance? Is there room on the roster for both?
"There's going to be a number of things that go into that," said Farrell. "Who else is on the roster? What's the alternative in center field? We've talked about wanting to keep Shane [Victorino] in right field and that's still our intent, to keep him in right field as much as possible. So with each passing day, we get more information and we start to look at different combinations."
Even Sizemore is unsure of what's ahead or what he ultimately may be capable of doing. All he knows is: so far, so good.
"I've felt good," he said. "I haven't had one day where I was like, 'I don't know if I can play today,' or 'This might be too much.' So I can't really say because I haven't really pushed it yet. But the important thing is, I feel good enough to just keep going out there every day and build off that. I'm testing it every day. I try to keep pushing myself. My goal is to get better every day. So as long as I'm doing that, I'm in a good spot. So I'm just going to keep pushing and go from there."
Reality is one thing. But Sizemore left little doubt that his hope is to again be an everyday player.
"That's what I'm going for," he said. "That's the ultimate goal. Trying to get to the point where you can be productuve and be out there every day. I don't know. I don't have that answer. It's definitely a possibility. I don't know if they're going to roll me out there 25 out of 25 (games). Let's get through tomorrow first before we start talking about the season. I just want to keep getting better and better."
On Monday, that was mission accomplished. And days like Monday make Sizemore realize how much he's missed the game.
"It's a great feeling to be back out here," he said, "and be part of a team and not be outside, looking in. That's been the case for me for a long time, sitting on the outside and being hurt and watching. It's good to just be around the guys and be in that same scenario and playing every day and just kind of getting back to being on a team."
-- Sean McAdam, CSNNE.com