Amid all the setbacks and frustration, the injury and speculation, Carl Crawford is finally back in the Red Sox lineup. And he feels like he has something to prove.
At least, to himself.
Crawford was activated off the disabled list — Brent Lillbridge was designated for assignment in the corresponding move — and hit second in Monday’s series opener against the White Sox at Fenway.
He has not played for Boston this season after undergoing offseason wrist surgery. While rehabbing from that injury, he straining an elbow ligament, and then suffered a groin injury that further delayed his return to the majors.
But, at long last, the wait is over.
“I’m just happy to be back out,” Crawford said before the game. “I’m excited about playing. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the field. So, you know, I’m very excited about getting back out there.”
In 11 minor league games, Crawford batted .306 (11 of 36) with eight walks and two stolen bases. The real test for him, however, will come on throws from left field. He has spoken before about the likely need to have offseason surgery on his elbow.
“I try to keep those thoughts out of my mind,” Crawford said. “I say if something happens with my arm, it happens. But I’m just going to go out there like I always do.
“I don’t know when the elbow will stop hurting fully, but at this point, I feel like I’m in a good place where I can just go out and player baseball. Right now, when I take the field, I’m not worried about my elbow, I’m not worried about my legs. I’m not worried about nothing but playing the game. That’s a big step for me, knowing that at 7 o’clock, I’m feeling good.”
Regarding his legs, Crawford said that returning to the top of the order, after spending most of 2011 in the bottom half because of his struggles at the plate — a disappointing .255 average with only 11 homers and 56 RBIs — provides the opportunity to be more aggressive on the bases.
“I can run as much as I want,” he said. “Last year, I was limited to what I could do. Now I have the option to take off whenever I want to run, make the defense nervous, put pressure on them, make them think about me more than the hitter sometimes. I can basically do what I want to do.”
The Sox do not have a specific plan for Crawford’s availability.
“I’ve talked to the medical staff about it, and he’s capable of playing a lot, and he says he’d like to play as often as possible,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “We’ll monitor his health situation like we monitor everyone’s, and if he needs a day off we’ll give it to him.
“Had a nice talk with Carl this afternoon. He’s really raring to go. Says he feels good, says he’s waited long enough, and that’s good news for me. I’m excited, of course. I’ve never seen him play in a Red Sox uniform and to see him in the mix [is] going to be really fun and exciting.”
Little, however, was “fun and exciting” for Crawford last season. Besieged by criticism about underproduction and being overpaid, Crawford said that he wound up compounding the problem by putting unnecessary pressure on himself, and that, at times, he “mentally broke down.”
“It’s the Red Sox. They’re one of the best teams out there,” Crawford said. “Not to say anything bad about the other guys, but they want to see everybody out there. I understand that. I’m a big part of the puzzle that was supposed to help them win the championship. So, you know, I want to get back out there and try to help. Looking at it that way, you want to get back out there as fast as you can.
“This year, I said I want to not put as much pressure on myself as I did last year. I’m just going to try to relax a little bit more and understand what I need to do, understand what my game is and how I can help the team out, and stick to that.
“I don’t know if I have to prove something but I definitely want to prove to myself that I can still play this game at a high level, contribute to the team, try to play to help the team win.
“I think I’m in a good place now, understand some things better and having that approach I think will help me out a lot this year.”