FORT MYERS, Fla. — The most unusual injury in spring training was surely suffered by Milwaukee pitcher Francisco Rodriguez, who stepped on a cactus while barefoot a few days ago and missed a game.
But Red Sox righthander Jake Peavy embraces a challenge.
Peavy developed tendinitis in his right ring finger last month when a ball hit him in the hand while he was playing with one of his young sons.
Then, on March 1, Peavy took his three boys fishing and accidentally cut his left index finger with a knife. It opened a wound so deep that minor surgery was required.
On Wednesday, when the Sox were off, Peavy unabashedly went fishing again. He emerged unscathed and finally made his spring training debut Thursday, pitching into the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins in a 4-3 victory at Hammond Stadium.
Peavy allowed one run on two hits, with two walks and two strikeouts over three innings. He came out after walking Josh Willingham to start the fourth inning.
Peavy’s best work came in the first inning when he struck out Willingham with two runners on then got Oswaldo Arcia to pop to right field.
“Given it was his first outing in this setting, I thought he threw the ball very well,” manager John Farrell said. “It was good to see him get challenged in that way.”
Peavy threw 53 pitches but what mattered to him the most was starting four innings.
“I feel today was an encouraging first step and a step in the right direction,” Peavy said. “I’m not behind at this point in time. Lord willing, nothing happens from here on out. I’m going to stay away from knives.”
Peavy acknowledged Thursday that the knife wound was worse than he and the Red Sox initially admitted. He has a long scar on the side of his finger and is missing a chunk of his knuckle.
“It was unbelievable. It’s sore, but the swelling is almost all gone. The knife stayed in there,” he said. “It was nasty. It was awful. It was a brand-new knife, right out of the package.”
The Red Sox remain concerned about the possibility of infection. Peavy wore his usual glove but concentrated on catching the ball in the webbing and not the palm.
“Catching the ball comes second nature. You can’t let it be second nature. You have to make sure you catch the ball where it’s supposed to be,” Peavy said. “But it’s not an issue.”
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski said he took something off his throws back to the mound. Peavy also was told to be careful fielding any balls hit back to him. But none were.
In addition to building up arm strength, Peavy worked on a new pitch. With encouragement from teammate Koji Uehara, he is now throwing a split-finger fastball. Peavy estimated he threw a dozen of them against the Twins. Farrell thought the pitch moved well, even if the Twins didn’t swing at it much.
For Uehara, it’s his primary out pitch. Peavy could use the split as a changeup or to make his other secondary pitches more effective. If nothing else, it’s something else for the batter to ponder.
“Koji showed me how to hold it. Other than that, not much else you can do. He tried to tell me some things he thinks about while he’s doing it,” Peavy said.
“It’s not going to be a Koji Uehara split-finger. Don’t get me wrong by any means. But why would you not try and see if you can expand your game. It’s something I feel like we’re going to use a good bit and have as a weapon.”
Pierzynski, who caught Peavy on the White Sox from 2009-12, thinks the new pitch could help.
“I thought it was good,” Pierzynski said. “He threw it for strikes when he needed to . . . It’ll only get better from where it was today.”
Peavy, who turns 33 in May, has 12 seasons and 305 starts on his résumé after making his major league debut at age 21. With one season remaining on his contract, Peavy is pondering retirement but fervently believes he can still be one of the top starters in the game.
“Absolutely. I expect to be as good as I’ve ever been,” he said. “I certainly have some time in the big leagues; there’s some wear and tear on my body. I’m not blind to that fact. At the same time, I’m 32 years old. I feel I can be a big part of a championship club.”
Said Farrell: “This is a guy that’s still relatively young. You would anticipate a lot of pitching life left in him. Because of the number of innings pitched over a long career, sure, there’s going to be adjustments. But this is a smart guy. He’s very athletic. We are going to need him to be a main contributor to our rotation.”
When the Red Sox traded for Peavy last season, a significant part of the attraction was his being under contract for 2014. His presence will allow the organization to further develop its young starters.
“If Jake’s healthy, he’s always going to be fine,” Pierzynski said. “His numbers bear that out over his whole career. The biggest thing is keeping him away from the fishing knives.”