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Diamond cuts

Red Sox’ Gonzalez able to hit 20 balls off a tee

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 22, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Adrian Gonzalez has wanted to swing a bat for about a week now, the pain in his right shoulder having faded long ago. But the new Red Sox first baseman didn’t cheat. He waited patiently for doctors to give their approval.

The restriction finally lifted, Gonzalez started reclaiming his smooth swing yesterday morning, taking 20 hacks at balls placed on a tee. He came away smiling.

“The only thing I had any concerns with were the first couple of swings to see how it responded,’’ he said. “Once the first two swings felt great, I took 18 more.’’

It was the first step in a process that Gonzalez expects will lead to his being in the lineup on Opening Day. Barring any setbacks, he could get into exhibition games by the second week of March.

Gonzalez had a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder repaired Oct. 20 and was not expected to start swinging a bat before March 1. But after progressing quickly, Gonzalez scheduled a meeting with his surgeon, David Altchek, for later this week hoping to get cleared earlier.

When Altchek’s visit to Florida was delayed, the Red Sox had team medical director Tom Gill consult with him over the telephone Sunday.

Gill examined Gonzalez last week, checking the shoulder for range of motion, signs of tenderness, and strength.

The decision was made to allow Gonzalez to start swinging. The first baseman didn’t waste any time, getting in the batting cage at 8:30 a.m.

“I didn’t hold back. I took good healthy swings and I felt fine,’’ Gonzalez said. “I think you’re waiting to see if you feel something different and I didn’t.’’

Gonzalez will repeat the tee drill for two more days before taking a day off. The expectation is that he will progress from there, hitting at balls flipped to him, then taking full batting practice before getting into games.

“There has to be a progression,’’ said manager Terry Francona, who was “thrilled’’ at the development.

Gonzalez is not far behind his usual schedule, as he normally does not start taking batting practice until he arrives at spring training.

“We’re excited for him to come out and do all the stuff he wants to do,’’ Kevin Youkilis said. “It looks like he’s getting a little bored not being able to hit. It’ll be fun for him and fun for all of us to have him out there and hit with us.’’

Youkilis, who came back from thumb surgery last fall, predicted it would take Gonzalez two weeks to get ready for live pitching.

The only issue now could be dealing with minor discomfort.

“There could be some stiffness at the end of his range of motion,’’ said Bradford Parsons, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “At four months [post-surgery], there could be some weakness in the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles because he wasn’t using that arm as much. It will take a little time to regain that.’’

Parsons predicted that as long as Gonzalez felt no pain, his biggest concern would be getting his strength and timing back.

“It would be different if this were his throwing shoulder,’’ he said. “But for a non-throwing shoulder, you usually see full recovery in 5 1/2 months.

“The timing of the surgery obviously gives him every chance to be ready for the season. I wasn’t involved in his surgery, but he seems to have made great progress.’’

Gonzalez said “eventually’’ he would talk to Altchek himself. For now, he does not plan to overextend himself.

“I’ll see how it feels [today],’’ he said. “You have to play it day-by-day and see how I feel when I wake up and go from there.’’

Gonzalez was amused at the amount of attention his 20 swings received, grinning when television cameras surrounded him coming off the field and reporters peppered him with questions.

“It’s part of the process and you can’t get too excited about these things,’’ he said. “You get excited when we win the World Series.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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