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Red Sox must do what's right for Pedroia

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 30, 2012 02:06 PM

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Here's hoping Bobby Valentine's words are heeded and the Red Sox are smart enough to protect Dustin Pedroia's injured thumb -- and protect him from himself.

"The risk of losing him for an extended period of time is not worth having him play sooner rather than later," Valentine said Tuesday night after Pedroia was diagnosed with a small tear in the adductor muscle in his right thumb. "We're going to be intelligent and he's on board. He's a smart guy."

Pedroia is as smart as it gets on the ball field, which is one of the many reasons he is as universally popular as a Red Sox player can be. But two of those reasons above the rest explain why he's already established as a Red Sox icon six seasons into his career. He is extraordinarily talented, and he transfers that into All-Star production. And his determination and everyman appearance appeal to kids and adults alike (sometimes at the expense of recognizing his pure ability). We like to think we'd play the game the way Dustin Pedroia does if only we had the ability and opportunity.

But his determination can be self-detrimental in certain circumstances, and the Red Sox and Pedroia apparently have run headlong into one right now. Pedroia first hurt the thumb three weeks ago, then aggravated the injury Monday during an at-bat against Tigers righthander Doug Fister. Pedroia left that game an inning later after diving for a ground ball.

The confirmation Tuesday that there was no ligament damage led to a collective exhale by Red Sox fans. It could have been worse. But it also could be better. It's possible the injury could keep him out 2-4 weeks if he can't play through the discomfort or has trouble gripping the bat.

Naturally, Pedroia is fighting to remain in the lineup, and the temptation must be there for the Red Sox to let him give it a shot. They're finally over .500 at 25-24, doing it in style with a victory over Justin Verlander Monday night, and things are finally going right. For all they've endured through the first 49 games, they're just 3 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East. They've won 13 of their last 18 games. They have some momentum, and they are desperate to maintain it.

puntosilvafinn530.jpgLosing the essential Pedroia for any length of time isn't exactly the best way to do so, particularly when one alternative is playing Nick Punto regularly in his place. (Let me join the chorus calling for the recall of Jose Iglesias, provided he is healthy, with Mike Aviles moving over to second base.) Pedroia, of course, is well aware of his own importance, and playing through an injury is exactly what you'd expect him to do -- heck, the news that it has been bothering him for three weeks is itself a recent revelation. If the Red Sox believe he can play at close to his usual level without risking further injury, well, go for it.

But if there is any doubt -- any doubt -- that he could further aggravate the injury, the choice is simple and Bobby V's words should be obvious: You're going on the DL, Pedey, and you don't have a choice. Keep that thumb elevated or whatever the docs tell you to do. See you in two weeks.

It's funny juxtaposition. The Red Sox must do what's best for him, because Pedroia is going to do what he thinks is best for the team. And to him, what's best for the team is always going to include his name being somewhere near the top of the lineup card.

Playing through injuries wins players admiration inside and outside the clubhouse, but it can also be counterproductive and foolish, sometimes leading to a bigger problem or a longer visit to the disabled list down the road. And there are suggestions of precedence of precisely that in Pedroia's past. Remember when he broke his foot against the Giants in late June during the 2010 season? Sox fans swooned at the footage of Pedroia, his left foot encased in a boot, taking ground balls on his knees just a couple of days later, looking like some kind of Dorf On Baseball. He was restless, and his manager at the time admitted to having a difficult time reining in Pedroia from doing too much.

"I failed miserably," Terry Francona told the Globe for the July 1 editions. "He's a maniac. He knows he can't put any weight on that foot. He knows he's going to slow himself down if he does, so he'll abide by the rules, but he's going to bend them as much as he can."

Pedroia spent much of that summer on the disabled list, returning Aug. 17 after a two-game rehab stint at Pawtucket. His return lasted exactly as long. He was scratched from the lineup on Aug. 19, returned to the DL the next day, and did not play another game that season. While he never admitted to coming back too soon, he did concede that trying to steal a base in his second game back was a bad idea.

"I'm upset, man," Pedroia said at the time. "I feel like I let everybody down. I can't really do too much. I tried. So hopefully it heals up and I'll get back in there."

The current injury is a lesser one, and that he's not hurt worse can be taken as another sign that maybe the Red Sox' luck is changing if you believe in such things. But they shouldn't tempt fate. If there's any chance of Dustin Pedroia further aggravating an injury that has already been aggravated once, well, his very own words of two years ago apply. Let it heal up, and then he can get back in there.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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