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Long and short of it: Scutaro tough

By Nick Cafardo
March 20, 2011

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BRADENTON, Fla. — We like players who rub dirt on their hands and spit on their wounds and play hurt.

We like players with spunk and personality and those who appreciate every day they wear a major league uniform.

Marco Scutaro is one of those guys.

Anyone who had as much pain as Scutaro did in his shoulder and neck last season had no reason to be playing shortstop for the Red Sox. But Scutaro did. And you know why he did? Because he never wants to give up what he worked so hard to achieve: a chance to start in the major leagues.

“I spent so much time on the bench that I always want to play,’’ said Scutaro. “That’s one of the reasons at the end of the year last year, I knew I couldn’t make the throw from shortstop, but with Dustin [Pedroia] out, I asked them if I could play second base.’’

Jed Lowrie is intriguing with his offensive potential, and Jose Iglesias’s flashy defense wows you. Iglesias likely will be Boston’s starting shortstop in 2012 — and perhaps for many years — but there’s an appreciation and respect for Scutaro among the Sox coaches and manager Terry Francona.

“He’s a good ballplayer,’’ said former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, now a special assistant with the Mets. “He gives you everything he’s got and he can be a very effective offensive player who can show some power. He’s very solid in the field.

“He’s really a guy that is great for any team. Obviously he was a utility player for most of his career, but he’s been able to adjust to being a starter and he plays hard every day.’’

Some utility players get pigeonholed, but in the past couple of years, Scutaro disproved the suspicion that he would wear down playing every day or that he wouldn’t be as effective if he played just one position.

Last year, he wound up playing 150 games.

He had a pinched nerve in his neck and then his shoulder went wacky. It atrophied, and he often showed reporters the difference in size between his biceps. It was amazing how he managed, but he fought through it.

Scutaro would receive an occasional cortisone shot and he’d be “fine for a couple of days, but then I’d feel terrible for the next 10.’’

But with all the injuries to regulars — Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury — Scutaro hung in. He wound up being the leadoff hitter for much of the season, even though he’s not much of a leadoff hitter. He also wound up being the infielder the team could depend on to go out there and field his position reasonably well under the circumstances. If you question the Sox’ two-year, $12.5 million commitment to Scutaro, reassess that, because it’s well worth it.

“When you’re a little guy like me, you have to be tough,’’ Scutaro said. “You don’t have any choice.’’

Even with the injuries, Scutaro posted numbers that were close to what he put up in Toronto the previous year. He hit .282 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs for the Jays in 2009, then .275 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs for the Sox in 2010.

In the field, it feels like night and day now for Scutaro. Last season, he felt he never could rear back to throw. It felt like a knife going through his shoulder, so he shortened his throwing motion.

He’s now back to his natural motion, but limiting the number of ground balls he takes in infield. He had treatment on the shoulder, per the team’s throwing program, rather than surgery.

“Everything’s been fine,’’ Scutaro said. “It’s just a matter of waking up and feeling good and just feeling you can compete. It was tough to do a lot of extra work last year, even in the batting cage.

“I had to do a lot of stuff — hot tubs, anti-inflammatories, ice and heat just to play the game. Sometimes it was really frustrating.

“It was never consistent, always up and down. The first half, I dealt with the nerve, and when I got my strength back, I started to deal with my shoulder. It was one thing after another. Just never felt right.’’

As for the future, Scutaro, 35, is getting to that age where teams won’t be looking at him as a starter. At least not at the shortstop position.

“I feel like I still can play,’’ Scutaro said. “Last year was very tough for me. I’ve never been on the DL. I pride myself on playing whatever games I need to play in.

“I know I’m getting a little older, but I’m still in good shape.

“Look at Omar Vizquel — he’s 43 or 44 and he looks like he’s 25. As long as you’re healthy, you can go out there and compete with anyone.

“I can’t handle another year like last year. That was tough. But you learn a lot about yourself and your body.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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