Commentary

Shane Victorino awaits liftoff

Grounded in spring training, Flyin' Hawaiian says he'll be ready when it counts

Updated: February 27, 2014, 10:40 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The greatest catch ever in spring training? Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino watched the video of Oakland's Josh Reddick climbing the fence in Spiderman fashion, not once, but twice Wednesday afternoon in Arizona, and begged to differ.

"One of the greatest catches, period," Victorino said. "Awesome. And then to do it twice. I gave him some love on Twitter. Going to be hard to top that one, man, unless someone friggin' hops over the fence. Tip my hat to JJ." Victorino added a fourth Gold Glove to his personal collection last season, so he obviously has some experience in making highlight-reel plays. But there won't be any forthcoming from him anytime soon.

[+] EnlargeShane Victorino
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesShane Victorino is working to get his body back in top condition.

The Red Sox have yet to pinpoint the date that Victorino will see game action this spring. The issue is not the right thumb he had surgically repaired in mid-December, though he says that still "hurts a little bit." Because of hamstring and back issues, Victorino played in just 122 games last season, his fewest since becoming an everyday player, and he is determined to avoid a recurrence of those issues in 2014.

"I hope it's sooner than later, but I don't know the time frame," he said. "I still have a lot to catch up with. For me, the goal is April 1 [or in this case, March 31, the date of the season opener against the Orioles]. I don't care if I play 10 games this spring, 20 games, if I come back in a week or three weeks.

"I want to make sure going into [March 31] I'm feeling 100 percent. I don't want to play 122 games. I want to play 150, 140, 162. That's what I'm focused on. I don't want that to happen again. There are signs of stuff we need to clean up -- the hammies, the back, my core strength, getting my mobility and body movements right. Once we kick that out, I'm good to go."

The thumb, that he can live with, he said. "That's the least of my worries," he said. "I can fight through that. I played the last two months with it last year."

The thumb operation, performed by Dr. Thomas Graham, a hand specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, was described as the release of a nerve, which involved the removal of a neuroma, scar tissue that forms when a nerve is damaged. The condition has variously been described as bowler's thumb, jeweler's thumb or surgeon's thumb. Victorino admits he'd never heard of the procedure until it involved the Flying Hawaiian's thumb.

The neuroma felt like a bump on the thumb, he said, and caused increasing discomfort whenever he held a bat. At times, it felt like an electric jolt, he said.

"I was getting numb, losing feeling at the tip of my thumb," he said.

The operation took between three and four hours, he said. "Part of the nerve was left hanging," he said. "They had to reattach it."

Neuromas can recur, he said he was told. "I just hope it doesn't come back in the next five, 10 years."

Even with all of last season's health issues, Victorino enjoyed a renaissance with the Red Sox, who had been widely disparaged after signing him to a three-year, $39 million contract. Besides giving the Sox right-field defense better than they had seen since Dwight Evans, Victorino hit 15 home runs, posted a slash line of .294/.351/.451/.801 and had a WAR of 6.2, a number exceeded on the Sox only by Dustin Pedroia's 6.5.

"Worst contract of the winter," Victorino said, repeating a much-heard refrain last winter. "It didn't fuel my fire. You know what? I played [badly enough in 2012] for people to think that. I would have been more upset if I had a good year and people talked like that.

"But it's because of the bar I set for myself."

Victorino, coming off a terrific season in 2011 for the Phillies, had hoped the club would sign him to an extension, much as it had done with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. When the Phillies passed on doing so, he admitted his pending free agency affected his performance, and they traded him to the Dodgers. L.A. then subsequently dealt for Carl Crawford, and Victorino accepted he would be on the move again. Boston, of course, could not have worked out better, financially or artistically.

Victorino makes no bold statements that he will duplicate last season's performance. "The only thing I can tell you is I will work to be the best player I can be. I might hit .240, I might hit .300, or more. Great players stay consistent. Average players, and good players, sometimes they have down years, but they're still good players."

Victorino, like most everyone else around here, is watching with interest as the Red Sox decide on a successor to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. He said he has not spoken at length with Grady Sizemore about the series of injuries that have kept him off the field for the past two seasons, but has no trouble recalling what Sizemore was like when healthy.

[+] EnlargeShane Victorino, Grady Sizemore
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty ImagesVictorino hugs Grady Sizemore, who knows how tough it can be to battle back from injury.

"I want to see the Grady Sizemore I used to see," he said. "Damn right. He was arguably the best center fielder in the game, maybe the best outfielder. He could do it all -- play defense, hit, hit with power, throw. I remember when I was younger and trying to get to the big leagues and thinking, 'Man, I want to be like that guy.' I was older than Grady but not in the big leagues yet.

"A damn good player. Jacoby [Ellsbury] did it one year. Sizemore did it four, five, six years in a row. He's had it rough, but get him back healthy, he can only go up."

Victorino also believes that Jackie Bradley Jr. will profit from his struggles from last season. Now 33, Victorino has been in the game long enough to know spring training is not a true barometer of what a player will do when it counts.

"Jackie earned everything he got last year," Victorino said. "Was he ready? I don't know. But I think he's coming in with a different mindset this year."

Victorino didn't exactly tear it up here last spring, which only added to the murmuring that the Sox had overpaid for his services.

"We were about two weeks into the season and [Mike] Napoli and I were out to dinner," Victorino said. "He said, 'Vic, I'll be honest with you. When I saw you in spring training, you couldn't hit the ball past the pitcher or out of the infield. Then you come out on Opening Day, wallop a ball off CC [Sabathia], wallop a ball off [Hiroki] Kuroda in the next game.'"

In the first four games of the season, Victorino had eight hits in 20 at-bats -- another reason why he's not too worried about when he begins to play games here. David Ortiz missed virtually all of spring training and the first two weeks of the season and still hit .500 with 15 RBIs in his first nine games.

"I'll be ready," Victorino said.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


EDITORS' PICKS