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Big adjustment for Pedroia

He's a hit with a wooden bat

SEATTLE -- The vivacity, the dirt-stained uniform, the David Eckstein in him, those are all reasons 5-foot-9-inch infielder Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox' top pick in last year's draft, should be a fan favorite at Fenway Park someday.

But, before Pedroia can be a fan favorite he's got to get to Boston, and there's one telling statistic that suggests he will: He's been using a wooden bat for less than 10 months, and in that time, playing in Single A and Double A, he has more extra-base hits than strikeouts. At low A Augusta, high A Sarasota, and now Double A Portland, he's cranked out 30 extra-base hits and fanned just 18 times.

"Guys that do that tend to adjust really well to a higher level," said Ben Cherington, the Sox' director of player development. "No, I don't think we're surprised, but we didn't necessarily expect him to lead the league in hitting."

Pedroia, in his Double A baptism, went into yesterday second in the Eastern League in hitting (.342), third in on-base percentage (.432), and tied for sixth in RBIs (20). The middle infielder was called up to the Sox for a few road trips in spring training, and, at 21, doesn't seem wowed.

"Seeing major league pitchers, it's not that much different," said Pedroia, who was taken 65th overall. "I was expecting everything to be lights out. They miss their spots just like everybody else. The game is the same as Double A, it's just on a bigger stage with a lot more people."

Pedroia, a shortstop before this season, was asked to play second in Portland, where uber-prospect Hanley Ramirez is the shortstop.

"We didn't feel like sending [Pedroia] back to high A would really challenge him from an offensive standpoint," Cherington said. "And at some point down the line, the ability to play second base would be important for him. It doesn't mean he's going to be a second baseman in the future.

"There's also the fact we felt with Hanley, we wanted them to play together and push each other. They're both competitive guys, different players, with different backgrounds."

Pedroia has protected Ramirez in the Sea Dogs lineup all season. Most of the year Ramirez hit leadoff and Pedroia second. This week, Ramirez dropped to second and Pedroia to third.

"There's no rivalry," Pedroia said. "We both know we're going to play in the big leagues. I'm 21. So is he. It's been going good. I definitely think he's grown up a lot. He's playing the game hard. A guy playing alongside you of his athletic ability is ridiculous."

Pedroia might help accelerate Ramirez's maturity. In fact, there is some belief within Sox management that Pedroia could be ready for the majors before Ramirez, for that reason. But that doesn't mean their relationship is a one-way street.

"He's been around playing pro ball a lot longer than I have," said Pedroia, whose college season was 50 games and whose pro season is three times that. "It's a grind. You have to utilize your energy in some points. I'm learning that from him. I had no idea."

In 28 games, almost all at his new position, Pedroia has committed three errors.

"He just has good body control, hands," Cherington said. "We didn't think the transition would be that tough. He's proven it hasn't been."

Cherington isn't sure whether Pedroia will spend the year at Portland or advance to Pawtucket, or, conceivably, Boston. For Pedroia to move up, Cherington said, "Two things have to happen. He has to show he's physically, fundamentally, mentally ready, and an opportunity has to open up."

Part I is close to achieved.

Second rates high
The guy above Pedroia at the moment is Alejandro Machado. Though he's 22, the Sox are Machado's fifth organization, which is somewhat perplexing, given the 154 minor league steals on his resume and his reliable glove.

"He doesn't have any one tool that really jumps out at you, doesn't do anything that knocks your socks off," Cherington said, when asked why Machado has moved about so much. "[His availability] probably was a combination of that and perhaps organizations that had guys ahead of him."

Initially signed by Atlanta, Machado was in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Montreal/Washington's organizations before being traded to Boston this winter for a player to be named. With the PawSox, he's played an errorless second base, and, as of yesterday afternoon, was hitting .325 with eight stolen bases. The Sox even called him up to shadow the big league club in Texas and Detroit two weeks ago in case Ramon Vazquez's sore quad had forced him onto the DL.

"We felt like we needed a guy close for protection," Cherington said. "It didn't end up working out, but he'll get an opportunity."

Machado, a switch hitter, is slight of build and without much pop, but he's quick and intelligent and projects as an economical utility player.

"He's played a really good second base, good range," Cherington said. "He's a very good base runner, good instincts. We feel he knows who he is as a player. He doesn't try to do more than he can but he does a lot. He'd be a good backup [or] utility infielder at the big league level."

Machado has "really good at-bats from the left," Cherington said. "He's still improving from the right."

Triple take
Ramirez doesn't have a home run this season, but he leads pro baseball in triples with seven. Ramirez is hitting .304 with 13 RBIs . . . PawSox center fielder George Lombard is hitting .315 (23 for 73) since snapping an 0-for-23 funk that included 16 strikeouts . . . The player obtained for Byung Hyun Kim, pitcher Chris Narveson, was 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA with Pawtucket until Tuesday, when he coughed up nine runs in a three-inning start vs. Durham, inflating his ERA to 4.81 . . . The Sox' No. 1 pick (17th overall) in 2003, David Murphy, is struggling in Portland, hitting .231 with no homers and 12 RBIs. "He's trying to make some adjustments in his offensive approach," Cherington said. "It's a tough level to do that. He has very good hands, the ball jumps off his bat, but [he's working at] just getting his hands started in a consistent way where he gets to fastballs earlier in the count and is prepared to hit that pitch. He's just not able to let it fly. His athleticism should give him a chance to make these adjustments. By the end of the year we'll have a better read. He's still playing good defense, working harder than anybody here."


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