BOSTON—Stephen Drew said he had had a concussion before, while playing high school football back home in Georgia, but the symptoms he experienced were nothing like the ones he began to feel after being struck in the batting helmet by a pitch thrown by Minnesota left-hander Caleb Thielbar.
Wednesday afternoon, 34 days after being hit, Drew was in a Red Sox uniform for the first time this season, activated from the 7-day disabled list created for players with concussive symptoms and batting eighth against Baltimore right-hander Jake Arrieta.
The Sox optioned Jose Iglesias to Pawtucket to make room for Drew.
“I don’t feel no symptoms no more,’’ Drew said. “Two weeks ago they were still there. Just trying to get over the spin feel, being a little lethargic, tired, stuff like that.
“It’s a good feeling to be back. It was kind of a long process because I didn’t know when I would be back.’’
The Sox also announced that pitcher John Lackey had been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right biceps. The Sox juggled their rotation slightly, pushing back Felix Doubront to Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays while having Lackey’s replacement, Alfredo Aceves, pitch the series finale Thursday against the Orioles.
A factor in the decision to pitch Aceves was to keep switch-hitting Orioles catcher Matt Wieters hitting from the left side. Aceves also has pitched well in his career against the Orioles, with a 5-2 record and 2.31 ERA in 25 games. His only start against the Orioles came in 2008, when he was with the Yankees and went six scoreless innings.
“[Lackey] came in and got treatment, went through some light throwing, the biceps still had some stiffness to it,’’ manager John Farrell said. “So, not knowing how many days he’ll need to have that irritation completely resolved, we thought it was in his best interests to put him on the DL, let him recover at his own rate and not have him feel like he’s up against the calendar, forcing things to get back on the mound. His health and well-being are first and foremost.’’
Lackey went on the DL retroactive to Sunday, the day after he walked off the mound in the fifth inning, clutching his right arm after throwing a pitch to Jose Reyes of the Blue Jays. Lackey was making his first start since undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on Nov. 1, 2011. He is eligible to come off the DL April 22.
“It’s going to depend when he can get back on the mound, first and foremost,’’ Farrell said. “Once he’s able to test it at nearly normal game speed, one thing we have to be sure of is when John goes to the mound again he’s not wondering if this is going to irritate again, how it holds up. We’re going to have to test it in earnest before we activate it.’’
Reliever Alex Wilson was recalled from Pawtucket to take Lackey’s spot on the roster.
Drew had remained in the March 7 game for another inning after being hit by the pitch, but said he began experiencing symptoms upon returning to his rented spring home in Fort Myers.
The Red Sox were sufficiently concerned that nearly two weeks later, they sent Drew to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Medicine Concussion Program, where he saw neuropsychologist Dr. Micky Collins, who serves as clinical consultant for Major League Baseball on concussion injuries.
“I thought [initially] I was fine,’’ Drew said, “but I knew something wasn’t right that night. Gosh, now it’s been a month now. I’m glad to be back. The procedures I went through are there for a reason; they’re there to protect us.’’
Red Sox manager John Farrell said he informed Iglesias on Tuesday, an off-day between Monday’s opener and Wednesday night’s game, that he would be returning to the PawSox. That was a foregone conclusion after Farrell reiterated over the weekend in Toronto that Drew was not going to lose his starting position because of an injury.
“To his credit, he handled it very professionally,’’ Farrell said. “I’m sure there was some disappointment in there. He did everything we could have hoped and he played exceptionally well for us. He goes back to Pawtucket, I’m sure, with an increased level of confidence. And probably, in his mind, he’s a major league player.’’
The Red Sox signed Drew as a free agent last winter to a one-year, $9.5 million contract to be their everyday shortstop, GM Ben Cherington declaring that the job was his the day his signing was announced. That came as a blow to Iglesias, who thought the trade of Mike Aviles to Toronto [for Farrell] had opened up an opportunity to claim the job.
But he came to camp 11 pounds heavier, noticeably stronger, and had a good spring, batting .294 (20 for 68) with 7 extra-base hits, and playing his usual superb defense. He also played well in the first week of the regular season, collecting three hits in the opener and batting .450 (9 for 20) with 2 doubles, despite missing a game and a half after being hit by a pitch Friday night in the throwing elbow.
“As we stated in spring training, upon Stephen’s recovery we were going to insert him back as our starting shortstop and we didn’t deviate from that, even though Jose was playing as well as he was and swinging the bat as well as he was. I’m sure there’s some frustration on Jose’s part, but he handled it professionally.’’
Drew played four games on a rehab assignment in Double-A Portland, hitting a home run in his final game there, and pronounced himself ready.
“We’ll find out starting about 7:10,’’ Farrell said. “In Portland he showed well. Solid contact at the plate. His actions are so efficient, whether it’s [at bat] or his movements in the field, we feel like he’ll be back in the timing of things relatively quick.’’
What does Farrell hope of Iglesias in Pawtucket?
“To go about his work every day with the same approach he had here,’’ Farrell said. “That’s the only thing he can really control. The sooner he can get past maybe any frustration that might be in there the better.
“When I say that, I’m not saying he showed any negativity about what took place but I can fully understand a player’s feeling when he performed so well, he gets sent out. But at Pawtucket, just maintain the very consistent strong work ethic he showed here.’’