- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- On the verge of returning to the lineup after missing nearly two months with hamstring and back injuries, Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino believes there's no quit in the defending World Series champions, even though they're in the basement of the AL East.
He also believes if he had been healthy and did not miss so many games, the Red Sox could be in a better position.
"I told everybody I'm the biggest culprit to see where we are in the standings," Victorino said. "I'm not out there to help. If I was out there to help then I would feel better, but I feel worse because I'm not out there. I can't help them in any way, being injured. The guys on this team, I know we're going to play to Game 162. We're never going to quit."
Before he is able to return to the Sox's lineup, Victorino was scheduled to play at least two nine-inning games with Boston's Triple-A affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox, beginning Thursday night at McCoy Stadium.
"We need to get some nines under my belt, and maybe it's one nine and hopefully I'm up there sooner than later," Victorino said. "I know [Boston manager] John [Farrell] has said hopefully this weekend, and every time we set out a number or set out a timetable there's always been a setback. For me, I'm not going to put a timetable on anything. I'm going out there [Thursday night], and I'll take one at-bat at a time, one game at a time, and we'll decide and see how my body feels."
He was scheduled for three at bats Thursday, but ended up getting four and played a full nine innings. If his body feels good Friday morning, he said he would push to be activated Friday night, calling it a "no-brainer."
Victorino has been limited to just 21 games for the Red Sox this season, with a .242 batting average, one home run and 10 RBIs. His last game for Boston came on May 23 at Tampa when he reinjured his hamstring.
His minor league rehab stints haven't gone smoothly, but he's finally feeling healthy again.
"This is probably the best I've ever felt, in regards to continuous workload," he said. "That's a happy place for me."
Prior to the recent All-Star break, he admitted he was having trouble maintaining his cardio workouts because of his hamstring and back. During the break, he continued to rehab but did not hit. When he arrived at McCoy Stadium on Thursday on afternoon and took batting practice and ran some sprints, he felt almost back to normal.
While he feels better physically, the mental aspect of his lengthy stay on the DL has been difficult to handle.
"It's been brutal. It's frustrating," Victorino said. "Have I been on the DL before? Yes. It happened last year, but two weeks and I'm back. Last year, yeah, it did linger but even prior years to that there have been injuries and I've been on the DL for two weeks and I'm back in two weeks and playing. That's the part that's been frustrating, is this one has lingered a lot longer."
At no point during this rehab process, especially with the Red Sox struggling all season, did Victorino think about shutting it down for the remainder of the year in order to focus on next season.
"I'm never thinking about that," he said. "I never want to shut it down. This body will never shut down. I'm going to keep going. If we have setbacks and I only play 10 games, whatever, I'm never going to say 'I'm shutting myself down and get ready for next year.' No. That's something I will never do. That's not who I am. I don't care if we're in last, or first, I want to be back out there. I want to play."
Victorino said he might not feel as bad about missing time if the Red Sox were doing better.
"When the team is winning and you're hurt, you're kind of an afterthought," he said. "For me, it's been frustrating."
Added Victorino, "It's not where we want to be in the standings, and that's the stuff we look at. If there's one team that I know will grind and play until Game 162 is this team. I'm not really worried. Is it a big mountain for us to climb? Yes. Absolutely. But that's what it's all about. This is what you want to climb. Every time your back's against the wall, this is when you want to show you can be the best. Are we at that point? I think so."
Victorino has always played the game at one speed -- all out. His last full season in Triple-A for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Philadelphia Phillies) in 2005, he was the International League MVP with a .310 average, 25 doubles, 16 triples, 18 homers and 70 RBIs in 126 games.
As he sat in the PawSox's clubhouse Thursday afternoon, Victorino reminisced about those days in the minors.
"Man, would love to feel those MVP days again," he said with a smile.
Now the 33-year-old's body is catching up with him, and this season is a perfect example of that, but he doesn't want to blame his style of play for his missed time.
"I've played this way since I was 5 years old, from the second I could pick up a ball and play," Victorino said. "I've always been taught that way and I've always played hard. Could you say this is something that happened with years of buildup and it's finally catching up to me? I don't want to think about it that way. I don't look at it that way."
When he does finally make it back to Boston's lineup, he has no intention of dialing it back, either.
"The second I do that, I might as well not play," he said. "I'm going to go out there and give 100 percent once I get back, and 100 percent of whatever I have. ... I just want to do what I've got to do to get back out there and stay out there."