FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Alex Cora promised Dustin Pedroia he would bat leadoff on Opening Day if he completed his comeback from knee surgery.
But Pedroia won’t be in Seattle March 28 when the Sox open defense of their World Series championship. He instead will be back on the injured list.
The decision was made Monday to have Pedroia remain in extended spring training to continue building up strength in his left knee after cartilage restoration surgery 17 months ago. There is no timetable for his return.
“No setbacks. Nothing out of the ordinary,” Cora said. “We feel we need more time.
“He looks, actually, really good. But we do feel if we err on the safe side, it’s going to be a lot better.”
Pedroia has played in only four Grapefruit League games and is 2 for 7. He has yet to play in back-to-back games or play more than five innings in a game.
He also has played in two minor league games, the second on Monday. But it’s not enough to give him a roster spot with 11 games in as many days to start the season.
“We ran out of time,” Cora said.
Pedroia, 35, accepted the decision, saying he has to focus on his long-team availability. The second baseman has three seasons remaining on his contract.
“They’ve had to hold me back. I’m ready for Opening Day,” Pedroia said. “They’re scared. No one’s ever come back from something like this. They want to make sure I follow the right steps to do that and make sure everyone’s 100 percent confident that when I come back, I come back and stay back and not have issues.”
Cora was careful not to put any expectations on when Pedroia could join the team.
“The target day will be when we feel he’s ready,” the manager said.
Pedroia believes he’s physically capable of playing but understands why the Sox are being cautious.
“I don’t think the team was expecting me to come in and look the way I look,” he said. “They just to want to be sure they do it right.”
That goes back to last season. When Pedroia came off the injured list May 25, he played only three games before suffering a setback and missing the rest of the season.
Pedroia has a long history of issues with his left knee and foot and has missed 216 games the last two seasons. He was on the injured list five times in that stretch.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Pedroia said. “They just want to see how my knee responds when I do that, which I understand. I appreciate that. Just go from there.”
Roster construction also played a role in the decision. The Sox have Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez available to play second base, making it easier to be cautious with Pedroia.
The move also will allow the Sox to carry an extra relief pitcher to start the season. With starting pitchers Nate Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, David Price, and Chris Sale being built up slowly, an extra bullpen arm is far more a necessity than a luxury.
Major league rules also allow teams to put players on the 10-day injured list three days before the start of the season. If Pedroia’s assignment starts March 25, he could return April 4 and miss only seven games.
The plan for Pedroia is to play Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, then either next Monday or Tuesday against the Cubs when the Sox go to Arizona.
From there, he would return to Fort Myers. It’s possible he could join a minor league team when that schedule starts April 4.
“We’ll see. Hopefully,” Pedroia said. “I feel like I’m ready now. I’ve just got to build up more innings and see how everything responds. It’s a big test. I definitely feel like I’m ready for that.”
Pedroia wasn’t thrilled with the decision. But he didn’t fight it.
“It’s probably a good thing,” he said. “If this wasn’t me, if it was one of my teammates going through this, I’d be like, ‘Hey, man, relax. Take the extra week.’ But it’s not one of my teammates.”