MIAMI — He may have been 0 for 11 in spring training with the Red Sox and is 1 for 6 with three strikeouts for the United States in the World Baseball Classic, but you won’t see Shane Victorino doubled over in despair about his slow start.
In fact, Victorino is taking his energy and enthusiasm and trying to infuse it into Team USA, which has been accused of not being as excited about its participation in the tournament as most other countries.
For example, in the afternoon game Tuesday, the Dominican Republic was like an excited Little League team, completely over the top in its comeback 5-4 win over Italy.
The players cheered every hit, and even had an out-of-dugout celebration led by Robinson Cano and Jose Reyes when they tied the score in the seventh inning. The rejoicing continued when they finished off Italy in the ninth.
Enthusiasm and energy are Victorino trademarks. That’s what the Red Sox want Victorino to provide after signing him for three years and $39 million.
“It’s been fun,” said Victorino, who did not play in Team USA’s 7-1 victory over Puerto Rico on Tuesday. “Few close calls, but we’ve managed to have fun doing it and we found a way to get here. This round gets tougher. There’s excitement, but at the end of the day we understand we’re preparing for a season. Preparing for the representation of our country.”
There are alarmists worried about Victorino’s poor start, but he expects to have better days soon. He said his natural righthanded swing is never a concern. It’s on the left side where Victorino needs to show improvement. With David Ortiz out of the Red Sox lineup, Victorino is going to be relied upon even more to pick up some of that offensive slack.
Which is why leaving the Red Sox to join Team USA pulled at his heartstrings a bit.
“But I’m representing my country, and that’s what was the deciding factor for me,” he said. “It seems things are going good in camp, although we had a little setback with David.
“Hopefully he gets back because he’s such a big part of our offense. Big part of the team. You don’t want to see that even from afar when you see what’s going on in camp.
“The staff is coming together and [Mike] Napoli is swinging the bat. The things that people were worried about, seems like we’re healthy and in playing shape and ready to go.”
Victorino is looking forward to getting to know his teammates better, but he already senses the chemistry is taking shape.
“Listen, this is David’s team and Dustin [Pedroia’s] team and Jacoby [Ellsbury’s] team,” he said. “The guys they’ve brought in, we’re there to help those guys make the team better. We’re going to surround the established guys there with a good group of guys who can perform and add something to this team.
“I know things weren’t great there last year. It reminded me a lot of what we went through in Philadelphia where we didn’t have Ryan [Howard] or Chase [Utley] and they went through the same stuff. It didn’t seem, from what I hear, that the team was comfortable at any time, but now it seems that’s much better.
“I’ve found it to be a good team with a good group of guys and I think it’s going to work. We have good pitching. I think our bullpen is fantastic, so I think the last few weeks of spring training are going to be important building that team concept.
“When I get back there, I’m looking forward to trying to get a feel for that and add anything I can in a positive way.”
Victorino said that playing in the WBC ramps up the adrenaline. You have to go from a gradual buildup to full bore. That’s because of the intensity with which some of the other countries play.
“There’s a different level of adrenaline in something like this compared to spring training,” he said. “It definitely kicks in when you’re in the heat of the battle. I don’t think guys are trying to do more than they can, but in the back of your mind you know you’re playing for something pretty big.”
It was that very enthusiasm that made US manager Joe Torre select Victorino. Every team needs that high-energy player to get the rest of the guys going. You could see that Reyes was that player on the Dominican team, and even a traditionally low-energy player such as Hanley Ramirez seemed to be excited by him.
While Victorino has started only one game and wasn’t in the US lineup vs. Puerto Rico, he has been the team’s cheerleader when he’s not playing.
Unfortunately for Victorino, his offense and his energy are not yet on the same page. If he had been in camp with the Sox, he would have received more at-bats, and more opportunities to straighten things out.
“I’m trying to get as many at-bats as I can,” Victorino said. “It’s tough for Joe trying to get at-bats for people. When you get the opportunity, try to make the most of it.”
Once this tournament ends, Victorino will go back to spring training mode . . . or will he?
“Not at all,” he said. “I want to keep up the intensity because it’ll be getting toward the end of spring training and that’s when you need to start peaking for April 1.
“I think this starts that peak all the more sooner because you’re in a very competitive situation. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You definitely don’t want to take a step back and then restart again. I’m going to keep it up until the season starts and quite frankly, I have a lot to work on and get better with.”
Including playing a new position: right field.
Not that Victorino is foreign to it, having played 148 career games there, but he’s been predominantly a center fielder in his major league career.
The Red Sox targeted him because they felt they needed a second center fielder-type in right, particularly at Fenway Park, where the dimensions are the most expansive in baseball. Victorino always had a better-than-average arm for a center fielder.
“I feel like things are coming around for me,” he said. “I know what the numbers look like, but I can feel myself being in a better place with my swing.
“It’s always a process building up to where you want to be. Last year was a struggle for me at times, but that’s behind me. It’s a new year and a new team and I’m looking forward to being a big part of it.”