MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Dustin Pedroia is coming off the worst season of his career. He’s also been beset with injuries, undergoing three surgical procedures over a span of 24 months, two on his left hand.
The Red Sox second baseman will turn 32 during the coming season, a point where many players start to decline.
But if Pedroia has any concerns about what direction his career will take, they’re buried under his bravado.
The Red Sox had 6,000 fans attend their inaugural Winter Weekend fan festival at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Saturday and the best bet in the house was seeing Pedroia, or at least hearing him.
“I’m ready. I’m ready to go. I’m good. If it started tomorrow, I’d be good,” he said.
Pedroia tore a ligament in his left thumb on Opening Day in 2013 but played through the injury with aplomb, hitting .301 with a .797 OPS. He hit only nine home runs but had 42 doubles.
Once the World Series ended, Pedroia had surgery on the thumb. That left him unable to lift weights and he came to spring training not as physically prepared as usual. Pedroia then reinjured his left hand on April 4 last season during a takeout slide at second base. The lack of strength and the new injury, a sprained wrist, led to his having the worst season of his career.
Pedroia hit .278 with career lows in on-base percentage (.337) and slugging percentage (.376). Going back to the start of the 2013 season, he has 16 home runs in his last 1,192 at-bats.
Pedroia was unable to even grip a dumbbell last season. As the season went on, he got weaker. He lost the ability to unload on a high fastball and pull it to left field.
“If you can’t do the things you want to do, you’re not going to have the bat speed you normally have,” he said.
Pedroia shut down his season early and had a second surgery on his left hand on Sept. 11. The extra time allowed him to have a normal offseason of workouts.
“Big difference,” he said. “I just got a chance to lift weights with my upper body. It’s been a while. I was kind of shriveled up. But not any more. The biggest thing was just lifting weights. That’s part of what makes me good is being able to work out in the offseason and build up.”
Pedroia has been taking swings for several weeks and feels the difference. Granted, it’s not against big league pitching, but he doesn’t need that affirmation to know his power has returned.
“Now the balls are going like 400 feet,” he said. “When you add 5 miles an hour on it, I’m not a chemist or anything, it’s probably going to go 500.”
Chemist? Doesn’t he mean physicist?
“Whatever,” Pedroia shot back.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said after last season that he hoped Pedroia could take better care of his body and avoid reckless plays like sliding headfirst into first base. Then general manager Ben Cherington raised the idea in December of giving Pedroia extra days off to keep him productive.
Pedroia, at least publically, isn’t interested in dialing back.
“I plan on playing 162,” he said. “My body’s back. I feel strong. I’m lifting everything. Right back to normal,” he said.
“I play how I play. That’s what makes me good . . . Obviously if I’m running to first base and I think I can get a hit if I dive, good chance I’m going to dive. We like hits. I fear nothing. I don’t care.”
What if Farrell prefers he not do that?
“I’ll consider that,” Pedroia said. “But I’m here to win games.”
Pedroia likes how the Red Sox have rebuilt their lineup with the addition of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. One of the worst offensive teams in baseball could become one of the best.
“We’ve upgraded our offense. We’re going to be pretty deep. A lot of really good players,” Pedroia said. “Every year there’s always guys who step up and do different things. We’ve got a ton of guys and we’re going to need them all to accomplish what we want.”
The Red Sox were unable to establish a leadoff hitter last season and Pedroia, who usually bats second, saw that as a weakness. He hopes Mookie Betts will change that dynamic.
“We have to form that bond and be consistent and play together. That’s the thing we had a long time,” he said “Jacoby [Ellsbury] always hit in front of me and we had a relationship. When he was running, I knew when he was going to run. You build that over time. We have to start building that. Once we do that, that’s when our team can be that much better.”
As part of the Winter Weekend, Pedroia played team chairman Tom Werner in a game of table tennis with a large group of fans watching.
“I hadn’t played in three years,” Pedroia said. “I played with him for a little bit then I got my timing down a little bit and started spanking balls.”
That sounded a bit like his plan for the season.