FORT MYERS, Fla. — Forget the 30 games Shane Victorino played for the Red Sox last season. His right hamstring was constantly aching and his lower back such a mess that surgery was a relief when it came in August.
Remember instead Oct. 30, 2013, the last time Victorino felt normal on the field. In Game 6 of the World Series, the Red Sox broke open a scoreless game in the third inning when, with the bases loaded, Victorino hammered a pitch high off the wall in left field.
Three runs scored, Fenway Park shook, and Victorino stood on third base pounding his chest so hard it’s a wonder he didn’t leave a bruise.
The Series was clinched on that swing, but Victorino drove in another run in the fourth inning. He also drove in four runs in the game that clinched the American League Championship Series.
It was just 17 months ago, but cheering can fade quickly, especially in Boston. Now Victorino’s place in the lineup requires justification from manager John Farrell and fans eager to see high-priced Cuban star Rusney Castillo have called for Victorino to be traded.
That Victorino is hitting only .171 in spring training is presented as evidence of his demise as Monday’s opener in Philadelphia draws closer.
“I understand that. I’ve been around the game. But what’s more hurtful to me is some people forget the fact I helped hang a banner,” Victorino said Wednesday. “It hurts a little bit to hear certain things or read certain things about a year and a half after riding a duck boat. The kind of guy I am, I take that to heart.
“There are short memories, but I get it. I’m focused on right now and trying to make a difference.”
Victorino then smiled, his eyes wide.
“I hit .178 in spring training in ’13 and everybody was laughing at me then,” he said. “I came out 8 for 20 and did pretty well all season. I love Boston. I love playing in that city. I love going to Fenway Park. Every time I hear a negative, I twist it that way.”
Farrell sees evidence of Victorino getting there. He’s sprinting to first base now, not just running. His body is stronger and his athleticism emerging following the surgery.
“I think there is a marked improvement over where we were two weeks ago. That’s going to translate into more consistent reads, routes, and ground being covered in the outfield. I feel like he’s doing everything he’s capable of right now,” Farrell said.
“Coming off those types of repairs, you have to be a little bit careful about what the calendar projects. It’s about what he’s capable of and right now he’s capable of quite a bit.”
Farrell has said since the start of camp that Victorino would be his right fielder if healthy. With three games remaining in spring training, Victorino is set up to start in right field on Monday. It would be his first game at Citizens Bank Park since the Phillies traded him in 2012.
Castillo could start the season in the minors, unusual for a 27-year-old with a $72.5 million contract. But roster management is the team’s problem, not Victorino’s.
“I get why the question comes up and why it keeps being talked about. We have great depth here,” he said. “I understand the situation and it’s not due to a lack of success. It’s because of an injury.
“I have said all along that if I prove I’m healthy I should be out there. To have your manager on your side, it’s great. It’s good to know that.”
Victorino said the rehab from the surgery is less an issue now than overcoming what was essentially a season off. He had only 133 plate appearances last season, the last coming in July.
“I’ve been away from really everyday playing for more than a year. I look at it as part of the process that gets me to being ready to go,” Victorino said. “I feel it’s coming. I’ve done more work on my legs and I feel more explosive. I’ve shown I can play three days in a row and I have that full speed. That dial has been turned up in terms of feeling comfortable.”
Farrell has stayed loyal to Victorino out of practically, not sentiment. There are no guarantees Victorino will stay healthy. But he has long record of success — Victorino is a two-time World Series champion, a two-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner — along with the respect of teammates.
“The biggest thing to me is health. Getting back to close to 100 percent of what Shane Victorino is, he’s an impact player,” Farrell said. “Myself included, we haven’t forgotten what he’s done for us. At the same time we’re also looking at what he brings to our team. That’s a guy who’s a very smart, intelligent baseball player, who plays [with great passion] and is going to help give us a personality of our team that’s important to us.”
There will be compromises. In Allen Craig and Daniel Nava, the Red Sox have outfield depth that Farrell wants to exploit, and even Victorino acknowledges that more days off than he once had would be a benefit. Castillo won’t dwell in the minors all season, if long at all.
Farrell, like Victorino, wants to see where it leads.
“He’s worked his butt off in camp to get where he is right now.” the manager said. “We feel like there’s still some further improvements that are going to be had, whether that’s durability, endurance or just flat-out quickness. He’s getting there.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.