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Red Sox notebook

Kotsay's May Day call no cause for alarm

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / February 18, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - The offseason didn't exactly go as Mark Kotsay had hoped or expected, in more than one way. Not only did he not find the starting position he was looking for - instead choosing to sign with the Red Sox as a backup first baseman and outfielder - he also ended up in surgery as spring training approached.

He called it "an emotional roller coaster."

Kotsay, who arrived in Boston last August in a trade from the Braves, had surgery Jan. 29 to remove a displaced disk fragment in his back. It's not the first time he has had this surgery, having undergone the same procedure (on a different disk) in March 2007 while with Oakland.

"I got back home, started my workouts, and had some discomfort," Kotsay said. "Nothing unusual for what I'm used to, and it just progressively tailspinned into having to go in and take care of something that ultimately I could have gone through the season and not had a problem, or like we ended up, having surgery to remove a fragment that had broke off and got lodged into one of the nerves."

The Sox were not aware that Kotsay would need surgery when they signed him to a one-year deal midway through January, according to a team source. He was signed to provide insurance for Rocco Baldelli in the outfield, and to back up Kevin Youkilis at first base. Last season, Kotsay ended up playing a lot of first base at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs after Mike Lowell went down.

The last time he had the surgery, Kotsay was back on the field three months later. So he's hoping it will be approximately the same timetable in this case, putting his return around May 1. In spring training, Kotsay's baseball activities will be limited. Instead, he'll work in the weight room, doing physical therapy to gain flexibility and strength.

"We knew that I had an issue with the disk," Kotsay said. "It's no secret. That's part of my issue. But now they're both fixed. Now I'm ready to rock another 10 years to my career. New beginning.

"I've dealt with it for four years, and at this point, if I have as much success as I had with my last surgery, I'm not going to look back, I'm just going to look forward."

Short-term plan
Don't be surprised to see Jed Lowrie playing third base this spring in addition to shortstop, though manager Terry Francona cautioned that no one should read much into the additional position. Lowrie will get time at third because of Lowell's initial absence and the need to get players at-bats, and Julio Lugo will play solely shortstop. Francona addressed both players individually, as he did all the position players yesterday.

"We'd like both of them to play really well," Francona said. "We just told them to go out and play and we'll make decisions on what's best for the team. But they're probably best served by not wasting energy. We'll make the decisions, just go play well."

Francona was clear that Lugo would not be taking on second base or an outfield position in spring training, despite the fact that if he loses the shortstop battle, he'd be the utility infielder.

"In fairness to him and to Jed, we need to not start moving guys around, playing them in the outfield," Francona said. "That's probably not the best way to go about it.

"Right now, this is a big spring for Julio. It feels like he has a lot to prove, and he missed some time. I think the best way to go about it is to let him be the shortstop."

Drill bit
Yesterday wasn't exactly a favored day on the spring training schedule. It was the position players' turn to do conditioning drills on one of the far fields at the player development complex.

And other than Chris Carter - "I think he was the only one that was excited for it," Francona said - there wasn't a lot of joy at the actual exercise.

Ribbing, of course, was in full force.

"I don't think that's probably the easiest thing for David [Ortiz], but he was out there, which we appreciate," Francona said.

Three players did not participate in the drills: Kotsay, Lowell, and Baldelli.

"We spoke to Rocco today and basically asked him for his cooperation in what he does on the field," Francona said. "He's here to try to help us win games, not to be the leader in the rundown drills.

"We told him that as a guy that's got some years under his belt now, we want him to cooperate with us and not do something he shouldn't. This was not something we wanted him to do."

Corner man
Youkilis also will play a bit at third base, just in case he has to play there in the regular season, though he might not do so until after he returns from the World Baseball Classic . . . Francona answered in the affirmative when asked if this was the best bullpen he's had since he's been with the Red Sox . . . Justin Masterson will be stretched out as a starter through spring training. He's still almost certain to end up in the bullpen . . . Asked about his dramatic increase in innings last season, and whether he was doing anything different to prevent burnout this season, Jon Lester said, "I'm not worried about it. As a starting pitcher, you kind of have to expect that. You want the innings, the workload. I'm not going to treat it any different. I'm just going to go pitch and hopefully get back up to those numbers again this year."

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