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Carl Crawford eyes Opening Day

2/21/2012 - MLB Carl Crawford Boston Red Sox + more

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, an early arrival so that the club can monitor his surgically repaired left wrist, said his goal is to be in the Opening Day lineup and said that in his mind, "the odds are good" that he will be able to do so.

"I definitely don't want to miss any games. That's my goal right now."' said Crawford, who played catch here Monday, much to the surprise, he said, of manager Bobby Valentine, whom he said wasn't aware that he was throwing already.

Valentine confirmed his surprise.

"I didn't know (Carl) was there," he said. "I walked around the corner and he was throwing the ball. It was great to see him His health looks much better than I expected. (I was) pleasantly surprised."

Crawford, who had a debridement of the triangular cibrocartilage complex (TFCC) of his left wrist, which is on the pinky finger side of the wrist and impacts the ability to rotate the wrist, said he has been cleared to do everything but hit, adding that he hoped that would come soon. He is no longer wearing a brace on the wrist.

The wrist bothered him last season, he said, to the point that he had injections several times during the season.

"(But) I think I was out of whack so many ways last year that the wrist was minor," he said.

Crawford was asked about comments made by majority owner John W. Henry last season that he was opposed to signing him to a seven-year, $142 million deal last winter.

"I can't do nothing about what he said, just go out and play," Crawford said. "It was unfortunate that he said that. I wasn't happy about it, and a little surprised. It's unfortunate he feels that way."

Asked in an email to respond to Crawford's comment, Henry said he stood by what he said earlier in the day to the Boston Globe.

"Again, this wasn't about Carl,'' Henry had written to the Globe. "At the time I was opposed due to too many lefties in the lineup and particularly in the outfield. Also, our two best prospects were left-handed hitters. My answer was an honest, off-the-cuff response on a radio station to a false assertion that ownership signed him for offseason PR purposes. This was a baseball decision I ultimately backed."

Crawford chatted face-to-face with Valentine for the first time since Valentine became manager, and dismissed the suggestion that he had any lingering resentment over any on-the-air criticism Valentine may have offered while working for ESPN.

"I don't have feelings about that," Crawford said. "His job was to do stuff like that on TV. I kind of understand how that goes. I'm playing for him now as a manager, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel that way. Me and Bobby have no hard feelings. We share a common goal trying to help the Red Sox win."

Asked about clubhouse issues last year, Crawford wryly replied, "I guess you're talking about the chicken and beer, right?"

He said he was unaware of the practice during games because he was on the field.

"When I heard the stories I couldn't believe you guys (media) knew about it. That was a surprise," he said. "It's one of those things that are unfortunate it had to happen but you try to move on.

"I want to stay positive, that's for sure. I think guys are going to rally around the chicken and beer thing, come together and going to stay positive. Everybody knows what kind of year I had. The only thing I can do is stay positive."

Crawford, an All-Star in Tampa Bay, had the worst season of his career in his first year in Boston, batting .255 with 65 runs scored and 18 stolen bases, all career lows. Crawford's on-base percentage of .289 was the lowest of any Red Sox left-fielder ever (minimum 300 at-bats) in a season. For Sox outfielders with 500 or more at-bats, Tony Armas is the only outfielder with a lower on-base percentage (.254), and that came in a season, 1983, in which Armas hit 36 home runs and drove in 107 runs.

Crawford also walked just 23 times (while striking out 104 times). The only Sox outfielder with fewer walks (and 500 or more at-bats) was Shano Collins, who had 18. In 1921.

"Last year was one of the toughest things I ever had to go through -- for whatever reason it was," he said. "I struggled. I had a lot of time to think about it, make corrections and think things will be better."

Crawford acknowledged that he needs to alter his mechanics at the plate.

"My batting stance was too wide, too open," he said. "I have to shorten up a little bit. I was late all the time on the ball."

Those are precisely the observations made last season by hitting coach Dave Magadan, but for whatever reason Crawford was unable to make the adjustments. He said he is prepared to do so now.

Valentine said Crawford's agent told him the slugger had changed up his stance.

"We like it," he said. "Obviously (he's) not swinging yet, but as long as he has a good image of himself, that's all that matters."

Crawford had a chance to rescue the Red Sox from playoff elimination in the last game of the season, but was unable to make a sliding catch of Robert Andino's hit that KO'd the Sox in Baltimore. Asked how often he had reflected on that play, he said: "As soon as it happened, I let it go.

"You can't (see) it over and over, like 'Lin-sanity,'" he said. "I almost had to turn the TV off. It was definitely a sore spot. I had a bad cringe in my body every time I saw it."

Crawford said he "put too much pressure on myself" last season, in part trying to live up to his lavish contract.
"I never played that way before," he said. "I'll try to play relaxed, be myself."

He downplayed the suggestion that his injury will set him back in his desire to get off to a good start this season and erase the stain of last year's performance.

"The rest of my body feels really good," he said. "To me, I don't think it's a big deal like everybody might think. I'll take time to get right, but if I thought it was something drastic, really, really bad, I might be worried, but I don't think this is a problem that will really set me back."

Valentine doesn't think Crawford will have any lingering issues.

"I think it's cleared up. If not, it's not a big deal. I think he's ready to play baseball," he said. "He had the great look in his eye. He's a great athlete. He looks like he's going to have good health."

Crawford, who in Tampa Bay batted primarily in the No. 2 spot in the order, was dropped down in the order early in the season by manager Terry Francona after getting off to a dreadful start and made 108 starts in which he batted either sixth, seventh, or eighth in the order.

"Well, that's the big question," Crawford said when asked where he will hit this season. "I'm not sure where Bobby likes to hit me. Ideally, I'd like to hit at the top of the order, speed and all that. I can't do that when I'm hitting behind Big Papi (David Ortiz)."

He said he was "pretty sure" that being dropped in the order had some "impact" on his performance, especially because he hadn't hit in the bottom third before. "Maybe it did, maybe it didn't," he said.

Crawford said he expects that the second season in Boston should require fewer adjustments, and also indicated a willingness to take on more of a leadership role, which has become something of a common theme. Jon Lester, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez also have voiced similar desires.

"My thing has always been to lead by example on the field," he said. "I need to get back to that point. That's a role I definitely want to grow into at some point. This team had leaders -- (Dustin) Pedroia, Big Papi. I tried sit back and learn from those guys, see how they do things. At some point I want to be a voice to help drive the team in the right direction."

His struggles last season will serve as an obvious motivator.

"It'll definitely be a key factor," he said. "I don't even really want to think about last year. It was so bad there's nothing you can do or say to make up for it. I've got to forget about it, and go out and play hard."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.