Pedroia manages to adjust
Valentine shift has gone well
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Dustin Pedroia thought nothing of yelling an insult across the clubhouse at Terry Francona last year, knowing the manager would come back at him with a crack about being short or losing his hair.
The two had a unique relationship, one formed over marathon games of cribbage in Francona’s office and grounded in mutual respect.
For Francona, Pedroia was the heartbeat of his team, the player he trusted to always do the right thing. Pedroia appreciated Francona for giving him a chance to become an established big leaguer and sticking with him through tough times.
Their bond was broken when Francona left the Red Sox, one of the victims of the September collapse.
The two swap text messages and phone calls on occasion, but that daily interaction has vanished.
For the first time since 2006, when he played for Ron Johnson at Triple A Pawtucket, Pedroia has a new manager in Bobby Valentine.
Pedroia acknowledged that it has taken some getting used to.
“Every time I’ve talked to Bobby, he just tells me to go out and play. It’s been good,’’ Pedroia said. “He’s left me alone and I go play. Sometimes we talk about the game and stuff like that. But it has been good.’’
The idea that not having Francona around will affect his play is something Pedroia finds ludicrous.
“Tito never played for me. I’m the one who has to go out there and play,’’ he said. “It’s been good. Bobby has been great. He’s been good to me. It has been fun. I’m going to do what I always do.’’
Pedroia was 1 for 3 with a walk in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays at JetBlue Park. He is hitting .286 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 15 spring training games.
The Sox lost the game in the eighth inning when Anthony Gose walked before stealing second, third, and home. Gose had an aggressive lead and took off for the plate when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia made a slow throw back to the mound. Pitcher Justin Thomas threw back too late.
Had Pedroia been in the game, it’s the kind of play he might have been on his teammates to watch out for. Valentine, who watched Pedroia closely during his two years at ESPN, has come to appreciate the second baseman’s instincts even more now that he is managing him.
“He’s totally what I saw from the outside and couldn’t even imagine. His ability is so good, his attitude is so consistently proper for baseball competition. I love that stuff,’’ Valentine said.
“There are 29 other teams that would do anything they could to have that type of player with that type of attitude, if they don’t already have it. I think it’s very important.’’
Pedroia appears primed for a big season. He hit .307 with an .861 OPS last season despite playing with a screw holding together his left foot, the price he paid for a fracture suffered in June 2010.
The screw was removed in October and Pedroia can feel the difference. There is more stability at the plate and his first step is faster. He also was able to work out at his usual frenzied pace during the winter.
“It didn’t keep me from doing anything last year, but I just didn’t feel good. I was walking around all messed up,’’ he said. “I feel normal now. I haven’t felt like this since before I broke my foot.’’
After missing the playoffs two seasons in a row, Pedroia is eager to return.
“In 2010, we had multiple guys getting hurt. Last year we traded for [Adrian Gonzalez] and signed Carl [Crawford] and had all the expectations in the world and it’s tough how it ended,’’ he said. “You miss it. You want to get back there and play for a championship.
“We’ve got a ton of great players. We just have to make sure we put it together. If we do that, we’re going to be tough. I know we had the best offense in baseball last year, but there’s always room to get better.’’
Pedroia and Valentine have talked about having dinner soon to get to know each other better. The second baseman was told that he shares a lot of qualities with his new manager, especially competitiveness.
“I’ve heard that,’’ he said. “But I’m a hell of a lot cooler than him, let’s be honest.’’