FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sometimes it seems The Legend of Pedey is greater than the man himself, which is saying something and, also, how legends -- and love affairs -- work, except that Pedey himself is still, you know, right here.
Dustin Pedroia is 35, has played in three baseball games since the fall of ‘17, stood with his chin on the rail as the Boston Red Sox put another championship on the wall, and otherwise, until lately, has dragged his bum left knee to and from the ballpark. As it is undeniably hard for him to watch a baseball game, it is perhaps harder still to watch him watch a baseball game, like watching a greyhound shiver in a starting gate. That never opens.
Having the Red Sox win with Pedroia in a hoodie, and with them barely breaking a sweat in October, still has a one-arm-tied-behind-their-back vibe to it, if only in part because of The Legend of Pedey. (And, also, because Red Sox second basemen ranked 14th in the American League in OPS.)
Well, like we said, he’s back, or appears to be, if five weeks of spring training are to be believed, along with five more innings at second base and three more at-bats on Saturday. And it’s one thing to hear he’s back and quite another to see him start the day with a wide, athletic stance … during the national anthem. Then to see him stomp to his position, chest forward, chin back, shoulders around his ears, the way he does. And pound his glove waiting for the catcher to throw down to start the inning. Then back-leg a ball to the right-field warning track, a high fastball from Atlanta Braves right-hander Kyle Wright, and generate that sound from a bat that has always looked too big for him, and that carry from a body that’s provided him more than could possibly be expected.
Afterward, he tore away the brace on his knee, five tugs on the Velcro on one side, five more on the other, then tossed it to the side, it landing with a heavy clunk.
“Good,” Pedroia said. “I felt good. Everything, so far, so good. … Starting to just treat it like a normal spring training. Just keep building going forward. … The good thing is I feel great. I’m moving great. Just trying to get at-bats and help us win.
“Overall,” he continued, “I feel great. I’m hitting the barrel every time, so that feels great. Just keep it rolling.”
In his last fully upright, fully healthy season -- 2016 -- Pedroia batted .318. He had 201 hits. That was before the first knee surgery, before the take-out slide at second by Manny Machado, before another couple knee procedures, before he started watching all that baseball, before all the recovery and rehab and starts and stops, very little of it playing actual baseball games, when in reality he was -- one way or the other -- surviving baseball games.
There does remain the question of just how back he is, if his left knee is ready enough, stable enough, for the rigors of nine innings a day, every day. Saturday’s five innings were a high point, with 12 days left before the Red Sox open in Seattle. They’ll start with 11 games in 11 days, the last three on the new synthetic turf in Arizona, all considerations for roster construction and potentially fragile knees and what’s best for everyone.
These are decisions that don’t have to be made today and are never as critical as they sound. They played 173 games without him last season. If a series or two or three at the start are required to ensure Pedroia has his legs fully under him, then that seems insignificant enough. The guys who won 108 regular-season games last season are healthy and happy and eager enough. Chris Sale, for one, struck out seven Braves in four innings Saturday. Mookie Betts hit a ball practically to the practice fields. They can wait on Pedroia, if necessary.
“It’s stuff that he hasn’t done in a while,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He hasn’t played much the last two years, so he has to get used to it. … It’s the details that the fans don’t see. They just see the oh-for-four, the two-for-four, but backing up first, taking off, stopping and going back, all that stuff that happens in certain games. That’s the beauty of the game.
“He’s been hungry since 2006. That’s the cool thing about Pedey. He understands. There’s certain days you ask him, ‘How you feel?’ and he’s like, ‘I feel OK.’ Most of the days, ‘How you feel?’, ‘I’m ready to go.’ I know him. I know how he works. I know how I balance it. I’ve known this kid since ‘06. He’s not going to BS me.”
Only recently, the brothers Cesar and Maicer Izturis were visiting Red Sox camp, talking to Cora, watching Pedroia go through his day, considering his recovery.
“He’ll ask you, which is not normal, ‘Do I look normal?’” Cora said of Pedroia. “‘Yeah, dude, relax.’ He’s not insecure, but he hasn’t done it in a while.
“Maicer had knee surgery, I think, and that’s what kind of cut short his career. And Pedey was taking ground balls and Maicer was thinking. I said, ‘What are you thinking?’ He’s like, ‘Actually I was thinking about my knee when I came back and I didn’t look that way. He actually looks good.’”
Cora said he then motioned to Pedroia.
“I said, ‘Hey, come here. Talk to him,’” he said.
Pedroia, too, seems realistic. It was good to play on Saturday. It’ll be better to play every day.
“The big picture,” he said, “is I’m trying to play the next three years. If that sacrifices five days … we’ll do that.”
The legend is secure. The man can wait.
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