FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox were working on learning signals Friday afternoon, a drill that involved players taking swings at balls thrown by a pitching machine while their teammates were on the bases.
When David Ortiz came to the plate, he defeated the purpose of the exercise by belting a ball high over the wall in center field.
It was a reminder of what Ortiz means to the Red Sox — and how significant his absence would be to start the season.
Ortiz did take batting practice Friday but that was it. The Sox are hoping he will be able to run the bases on Saturday and take a step closer to getting in his first game this spring.
Ortiz missed most of the second half of last season with a strained right Achilles’ tendon. In early November, when Ortiz was signed to a two-year contract, general manager Ben Cherington didn’t seem too worried about the health of his designated hitter.
“He’s feeling a lot better now. It’s not a concern moving forward any more than it would be for any player,” Cherington said.
Four months later, Ortiz still isn’t fully healthy. His Achilles’ has healed but lingering soreness has kept him from running with any consistency. With 22 days of spring training remaining, the odds of his being ready for Opening Day are growing remote.
But manager John Farrell said the Sox remain optimistic.
“We feel like, even now, with minor league games starting up, we’ll still be able to get the appropriate number of at-bats that he’ll feel comfortable provided there’s progress being made,” Farrell said.
“He’s critically important to our lineup. He’s aware of that. I think that’s what kind of adds to his frustration, not being able to get on the field and participate in spring training and get ready for the regular season. But because we haven’t come to that date where Plan B is a legitimate one — I know those discussions will take place — we’re still hopeful and taking the approach he will be ready. But we’ve got to be aware that may need adjustment.”
Farrell said that Plan B would not involve picking up a player from outside the organization to fill in. The Sox have internal options that will be better evaluated once the time comes and other roster spots are filled.
The Sox could theoretically use Jonny Gomes as the DH and keep Jackie Bradley Jr. on the roster as a left fielder. Or they could keep catcher Ryan Lavarnway. That would allow the Sox to use Lavarnway or Jarrod Saltalamacchia at DH.
“I know we’re going to have to prepare if that time comes,” Farrell said. “But right now we’re focusing on his work and hopefully being ready for the opener.”
The plan, more the hope, is for Ortiz to run the bases with a greater degree of effort on Saturday. But nothing is certain.
“As he has mentioned himself, there are days we have to adjust at the moment. I know David’s frustrated by it. We’ll continue to go day to day with it,” Farrell said. “It’s kind of a wait and see.”
A secondary issue is whether Ortiz would be able to play every day if he is on the Opening Day roster. At the moment, the Sox would welcome that dilemma.
Drew has concussion
Shortstop Stephen Drew was in the original lineup for Friday night’s game against the Twins, then scratched because of a mild concussion. Minnesota’s Caleb Thielbar hit him in the helmet with a pitch on Thursday.
“At the time he said, ‘Imagine if it hit me in the nose?’ Fortunately it glanced off the helmet,” Farrell said. “The way he reacted you almost think he didn’t see the pitch completely because there wasn’t a whole lot of diving out of the way. It wasn’t a direct blow.
“At the time he felt fine throughout the game. It was [Thursday] night when he started reading a book, the print started to get a little fuzzy on him . . . By rule, he’s being held out.”
Drew would have to be cleared by Dr. Gary Green of Major League Baseball, who works in conjunction with each team’s medical staff.
If Drew has lingering symptoms, he would have to pass a test administered online before he could play again.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is expected to announce on Saturday that he will retire after this season. Farrell, a former pitcher, said Rivera is the benchmark for that position.
“He set the standard by which all other closers are compared,” said Farrell. “I think it’s remarkable that if you look at video from probably 15 years ago to now, you’re going to see the same exact delivery. Just a great athlete with a Hall of Fame career.”
Look to the future
Farrell went to watch minor league prospects Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman pitch in a simulated game Friday. He’ll watch Matt Barnes and Henry Owens on Saturday . . . Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who has been in camp with the team, celebrated his 60th birthday Friday.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.