FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox have been careful to tamp down any expectations for Grady Sizemore since the day he arrived at spring training. No one, not even Sizemore, was willing to predict what he was capable of after missing two seasons with an assortment of injuries.
On Monday, that all changed.
Sizemore was 3 for 4 with a double off the wall and made two terrific catches in center field as the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 10-5, before a sellout crowd of 9,908 at JetBlue Park.
“Maybe a little bit of a flashback to how good Grady was for a number of years,” manager John Farrell said.
The regular season starts March 31 in Baltimore and Sizemore is a valid candidate to start in center field.
“I think it’s a definite possibility,” he said.
Sizemore is 8 for 21 this spring and has struck out one time. Given all the time away from the game, his ability to make consistent contact has been remarkable. Sizemore also is starting to hit the ball with more power, both in batting practice and in games, as his legs get stronger.
The Red Sox started camp believing rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. would be their center fielder. One of the scenarios discussed with Sizemore was the idea of starting the season on the disabled list so he could get extra games in extended spring training or with a minor league team.
Now Sizemore is opening doors with two weeks left before Opening Day, and the Red Sox are contemplating how their roster will look.
“With each passing day, we get more information and we start to look at different sets of combinations,” Farrell said.
Sizemore’s renaissance is a subject of daily conversation in the clubhouse. A player who disappeared is back.
“It’s exciting to see,” said John Lackey. “He’s been playing well and looking healthy. It looks like he’s having a good time just being back out there on the field. I think he’s excited about that.
“He’s such a talented player, had some great years in the league. If he can get even close to what he used to be, that would be a huge bonus for us.”
Lackey was on the mound in the first inning when Daniel Descalso hammered a pitch to center field that got caught in the wind and carried to the wall with two outs.
Sizemore tracked the ball and slammed into the padded wall just as he caught it. Lackey was walking back to the dugout and looked over his shoulder at the play.
“I’ve seen him do that before,” Lackey said. “I kind of thought it was going to happen.”
Sizemore landed hard on the warning track after making the catch but bounced up quickly and jogged off the field.
“It kind of crept up on me before I knew it was there,” he said. “The wind was blowing pretty good.
“I hit [the wall] pretty hard. It hit me so fast, I wasn’t able to brace. It actually didn’t hurt too bad. I’m sure I’ll be a little sore tomorrow.”
Sizemore later made a diving catch in the sixth inning, going into the gap in left-center to take at least a double away from Jon Jay.
“Very good defense,” said Farrell. “Fearless, as we saw.”
Sizemore, 31, wasn’t sure what to expect once he put cleats on again. But his knees and back have so far held up.
“I’ve felt good,” he said. “I haven’t had one day when I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can play today. This might be too much.’ I can’t really say because I haven’t pushed it yet. The important thing is I feel good enough to keep going out there.”
Still, caution is needed. Sizemore has played in only seven games.
Sizemore has played on consecutive days once, March 10 and 11. He is not on the travel roster for Tuesday’s game against the Yankees and is scheduled for a minor league game Wednesday.
Spring training statistics, if not wholly meaningless, are often misleading. Sizemore has passed all the physical tests to date but the biggest ones remain.
The Red Sox have 13 games in 14 days to open the season, all in what could be chilly weather. Can Sizemore handle that grind?
“We won’t know until there’s a string of games that are played,” Farrell said. “I can’t sit here today and say that’s afforded here in spring training.”
Sizemore was a three-time All-Star with the Indians, compiling an .856 OPS from 2005-09 before injuries ruined his career. He has power, speed, and the ability to hit leadoff.
If spring training is no mirage, Sizemore could be an ideal replacement for Jacoby Ellsbury. For now, days like Monday are enough.
“It’s a great feeling to be back out here and be part of a team and not be outside looking in,” Sizemore said. “That’s been the case for me for a long time, sitting on the outside and being hurt and watching.
“It’s good to be around the guys and in that same scenario, just getting back to being on a team.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.