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Dustin Pedroia ready to set tone for Red Sox

“Who am I not to play with a few fingers messed up?” says Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “Now it’s my job to make sure everybody knows that every play and every pitch matters.”

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

“Who am I not to play with a few fingers messed up?” says Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “Now it’s my job to make sure everybody knows that every play and every pitch matters.”

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The pinkie on his right hand was pointing to the side, the result of a ground ball that took a bad hop and mashed a ligament so badly that a surgeon used a steel pin to straighten it out.

The ring finger on his left hand was broken. An avulsion fracture, they called it. All he knew was that it hurt.

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Dustin Pedroia could barely grip a bat and the simple act of throwing a baseball made him wince. But he started the final two games the Red Sox played last season.

It was Pedroia’s way of making a statement without having to say a word. He had grown tired of teammates looking for excuses and crossing days off the calendar like they were prisoners in a cell. As wretched as the last-place Red Sox were, Pedroia wanted his presence on the field to register with younger players.

“I was pretty upset with the way everything had been going,” Pedroia said during a long conversation one morning in spring training. “We weren’t the same kind of team we were when I first got called up.”

Pedroia had memories of Mike Lowell coming off the field in so much pain that he couldn’t bend over to unlace his spikes and needed help from a clubhouse attendant. The Red Sox he joined in 2006 treated every game like it was their last. Somewhere along the way, that changed.

“Who am I not to play with a few fingers messed up?” Pedroia said. “Now it’s my job to make sure everybody knows that every play and every pitch matters. It just doesn’t mean something to me, it means something to our team, our fans, and our city.”

Pedroia went 3 for 7 with two doubles and two walks in those two games. The Red Sox lost both.

But maybe it was worth it.

“I know what he did,” shortstop Jose Iglesias said. “How many guys would have played in those games? He had two broken fingers.”

Iglesias is 23. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who is 24, said those two days in New York were ones he would never forget.

“People were just trying to get the season over with. That is leadership, what he did,” Middlebrooks said. “That’s Pedey. He cares.”

The Red Sox made widespread changes to their roster in the last seven months, trading away Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez and signing seven free agents who will play prominent roles. The team is fundamentally different than the one that went 69-93.

General manager Ben Cherington and his staff carefully vetted the new players to gauge their ability to play in Boston and add character to the clubhouse.

But the holdover veteran players, particularly Pedroia, may be the ones who bring about the most change.

Pedroia’s legacy with the Red Sox will be tied to whether he can help reverse what has been a five-year slide for the organization.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Pedroia’s legacy with the Red Sox will be tied to whether he can help reverse what has been a five-year slide for the organization.

At 29, Pedroia is in the prime of his career and one of the best players at his position in the game. He has a World Series ring and a Most Valuable Player trophy as proof.

But his legacy with the Red Sox will be tied to whether he can help reverse what has been a five-year slide for the organization. The Sox are an afterthought now and Pedroia hates that.

“It has been a little different lately because all we did was win when I first got here,” Pedroia said. “When I look back at my first couple of years I always look back to 2008 and remember the feeling when we lost to the Rays [in the ALCS]. That always hit me. That team we had was awesome. If Josh wasn’t hurt, we might have won it again.

“It was a horrible feeling losing. I really didn’t know what to do. Every year is the same for me. This is all I know. When I got called up, the veteran guys expressed a sense of urgency that we had to win. I got thrown into that fire and I think ever since then I play with that sense of urgency that every game is life or death.”

When Jason Varitek retired before last season, Pedroia seemed like an ideal replacement as captain. But former manager Bobby Valentine did not name a captain and John Farrell will not either. Only three teams in baseball — the Yankees, Mets, and White Sox — have a captain and the Red Sox do not see a need to anoint a leader.

“John and I both feel like we’re much better off with 15 or 16 guys who are leading than one,” Cherington said. “Tek was a unique situation. He was a clear leader of the team when he was playing. A combination of things led to that. It was a different time, a unique circumstance. I’m not sure we need to isolate a particular person. People know who our leaders are. We want as many guys to be leaders as possible.”

But Pedroia does set a standard, whether he has a title or not.

“Whether it’s in the clubhouse with some of the tendencies he may have, or more importantly the tone that is set on the field when we go through our work, he makes a difference,” Farrell said. “There have been a number of days in camp when we haven’t played a game yet and he’s covered in dirt head to toe. Guys look to him. They look to him to set the tone.

“He wants to be the guy who leads by example and have a tough conversation with a teammate if one is needed. That is Dustin Pedroia and how he is wired.”

Pedroia did not influence the changes made to the roster, saying he spoke to Cherington only three times over the winter. But he approves of what transpired.

“Ben and those guys, they’re good at what they do. When you lose 93 games, they’re smart enough to know that changes need to be made,” Pedroia said. “My job is to play second base and hit everywhere they hit me and be a good player.

“Our team has been great. The way we’re working. It doesn’t matter what drill we’re doing, guys are taking it personal to get better. I like what I’ve seen.”

After what for him was a down season in 2012 — his OPS was a career-low .797 — Pedroia is looking forward to playing while healthy, something that hasn’t been the case for the better part of two seasons.

“The stuff that I learned from last year is you can’t control what people think or say about you. I’m just trying to worry about showing up that day and trying to get better as a player and help our team get better. I’m more focused on us,” he said.

“This has to change. I think we all know that. The goal here is to win the World Series and I’m never going to think differently.”

****

Red Sox leaders through the years

A strong clubhouse leader helps to set the tone for the season and foster good team chemistry, whatever their approach. A look at 12 Red Sox who served as leaders in their own way:

Jimmy Collins -- Player-manager was backbone of team’s first World Series title.

Bill Carrigan -- “Rough” was a three-time Series winner, twice as player-manager.

Harry Hooper -- Well-educated, incredibly talented outfielder spent 12 years with Sox.

Joe Cronin -- Spent 11 years of Hall of Fame career as Sox player-manager.

Bobby Doerr -- Unsung legend was considered team captain minus the actual title.

Carl Yastrzemski -- Never let his star status compromise his professionalism.

Carlton Fisk -- Always left it all on the field and fiercely loyal to teammates.

Don Baylor -- Imposing hitter who ruled clubhouse with a kangaroo court.

Mo Vaughn -- Opionated masher usually backed up his words at the plate.

Pedro Martinez -- Dominating presence on the mound and in the clubhouse.

Jason Varitek -- Universally liked by teammates, especially those he caught.

Dustin Pedroia -- Hard-nosed hustler quickly became team’s emotional leader.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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