An injection of speculation
FORT MYERS, Fla. - This is like the bad old days when Red Sox spring training was an annual festival of curiosity and calamity. Players would arrive late (Manny, Pedro), walk out of camp (Roger), or fall from shotgun seats (Wade) when their wives wheeled out of restaurant parking lots. The organization would respond with all forms of coverup and double-speak. It was good fun for everybody.
The Sox of today are built in the emotional flat-line image of general manager Theo Epstein, and spring camp was unfolding in a sea of tranquility (some would say boredom) right up until this morning when Terry Francona matter-of-factly mentioned that J.D. Drew had made a round-trip visit to Boston for an injection in his back.
And so we're off and running again.
J.D. Drew is hurt. It might be a big deal or it might not, but in the Hub hardball news drought of 2009, it qualifies as headlines and gets eyeballs rolling.
The Sox are downplaying Drew's condition. Reminded that the New England media and Sox fans would probably make it a big deal, Francona said, "Go ahead. I'm just telling you what happened. I can't change my story. Have a ball with it."
We will. Like toll hikes on the Mass. Pike, Drew's injury history is a well-worn subject that inspires sarcasm and anger from the citizenry.
You know the drill. Nancy Drew. Audie Murphy Drew. Old Blood and Guts. More days off than a State House employee. Won't play hurt. Typical Scott Boras client.
Drew makes for an easy target. But this sudden round trip raises legitimate questions about his health and readiness for the upcoming season - which raises questions about the offensive firepower of a Manny-less lineup with Mike Lowell recovering from surgery and Big Papi in decline.
According to Francona, Drew flew to Boston Sunday and received the shot from Dr. Bill Palmer Monday. He flew back Monday night.
Does that make any sense? A guy with a herniated disk flies three hours in the teeth of a snowstorm to get a shot that could be administered in the training room at City of Palms Park. Who does that? And we are supposed to believe this is no big deal?
"If I needed somebody to put a needle in me, Bill Palmer's doing it," said Francona. "He's the best. I don't think a two-hour flight is going to put [Drew] over the edge.
"If if was that big a deal, I wouldn't have told you guys, 'cause nobody asked me," added the smiling manager. "You crack media guys didn't even know he was gone."
This is the same Drew who started only two regular-season games after Aug. 17 last season. This is the same Drew who has played more than 140 games in only two of his 10-plus big league seasons. This is a guy who has three seasons remaining on a contract that pays him $14 million annually - more than any other Red Sox player.
There was a mini-controversy when Drew arrived in camp in the middle of February and said he has residual back stiffness. When the story received national attention, Drew claimed it was exaggerated and Theo attributed the reaction to a slow news cycle.
But now we are wondering again. Is Drew's balky back going to be an issue throughout the season? Is surgery a possibility? And can J.D. Drew ever gain the love and respect of the Nation? Is he going to again be just good enough to stay in the lineup, but not good enough to make a significant impact?
Drew has played in two spring games, going 2 for 5 with a double. The Sox are off today and he's going to see how things feel before attempting to return to baseball activity tomorrow.
He was at the Sox spring site today, and NESN's intrepid Heidi Watney interviewed him as he was leaving the park before 10:30 a.m.
"Been working with a chiropractor, started talking a little bit about some of the underlying issues and thinking that the facets might be a little bound up," Drew started. "So [I] talked with the training staff a little bit, decided to do an injection in that area to see if that would free up some of the old scar tissue, an old injury, and give me some freer motion in that area.
"Really a win-win situation. I mean, if it doesn't go well, then it's not a big deal. If it goes well, then we kind of get an idea of what's going on. So after talking with everybody, decided it would be a good chance to get back early in spring. Still got plenty of recovery time, take a few days off to see how things work out. We've got an off day tomorrow, so see how it feels on Thursday."
Somehow the whole thing sounds like something less than win-win.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.