Part 2 of a 10-day series on Red Sox questions that will be answered during spring training.
Answer: They were the first two players placed on the disabled list by the Sox last season -- Bonser with a groin strain, Lowrie with mononucleosis. That was on March 31. Before the season opener, two more players went on the DL: pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka (neck strain) and Junichi Tazawa (elbow surgery).
It was the start of a season-killing trend. Before it was over, the Sox had placed 19 players on the DL, used the DL 24 times, and lost 1,018 games to players on the list. Six players that were on Terry Francona’s Opening Day lineup card wound up on the DL: the starting battery, pitcher Josh Beckett and catcher Victor Martinez; the leadoff man, Jacoby Ellsbury; the 2008 MVP, Dustin Pedroia; the cleanup hitter, Kevin Youkilis; and the new center fielder, Mike Cameron. And we’re not talking garden-variety, 15-day stints, either. Martinez missed the least time, 22 games. Everybody else named missed at least 40 games, Ellsbury holding the dubious distinction of missing the most time among the first-day starters, 140 games in three different stints on the DL.
So, a note of caution amidst the giddiness as spring training approaches: Health, in all its unpredictability, always is a threat to wreck the best-laid plans. In the second of our 10-day countdown to camp, here are the players coming back from injuries that the Sox will be watching most closely this spring:
• Adrian Gonzalez. The newly acquired first baseman underwent surgery last October to repair a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder, began rehabbing a couple of weeks later, and reports a significant improvement in his range of motion. He has begun playing catch, but says he doesn’t expect to be swinging a bat until the beginning of March. If he is able to play games by March 20, he said, he should be ready for the season opener April 1 in Texas. But everyone will exercise prudence here -- Gonzalez has a long-term contract extension dependent on his recovery.
• Josh Beckett. Beckett has had back issues that caused him to miss time in each of the last three seasons, including 56 games after slipping on a wet Yankee Stadium mound last May. Concerns about his health did not preclude the Sox from signing him to a four-year, $68 million contract extension last April, and GM Theo Epstein repeatedly has said he expects Beckett to be highly motivated and reporting to camp in prime condition. Beckett turns 31 on May 15 and is beginning his 11th season in the big leagues, so staying in good shape takes on added importance.
• Jacoby Ellsbury. A maddening situation for both the player and the team’s medical staff, Ellsbury went on the DL three times after an April 11 collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre left him with fractured ribs. Ellsbury expressed considerable frustration with his diagnosis and care, putting the medical staff in a position of having to defend itself, which it didn’t appreciate. Epstein, however, never wavered in his public support of the player and quickly settled his arbitration case, and all indications are that Ellsbury is ready to reclaim his spot at the top of the order. The Sox training staff visited him in Arizona, where he is working out, and gave him a clean bill of health. He is already swinging a bat, throwing and doing other baseball activities, a close associate said, adding, “He’s feeling great.’’
• Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Pedroia (fractured left foot) and Youkilis (torn adductor muscle in his right thumb) are both on schedule for camp; Youkilis believes he could have played if the Sox had made the playoffs and advanced deep into October.
• Mike Cameron. The center fielder passed a kidney stone days into the season, then was discovered shortly thereafter to have a torn abdominal muscle that ultimately required surgery and caused him to miss 93 games over two DL stints. Cameron will be restriction-free when he reports to camp, according to his agent, Mike Nicotera.
“Mike was just in Boston where he worked out for [the Red Sox],’’ Nicotera wrote in an e-mail. “He ran 17 100-yard sprints, and felt great. And he said he feels "free" again swinging the bat. He's anxious to get to spring training. There will be no restrictions on him.’’
Still, Cameron turned 38 on Jan. 8, so the Sox will be eager to see how much he has left physically.
• Marco Scutaro. One of Scutaro’s most remarkable achievements in his first season with the Red Sox was avoiding going on the DL. He was bothered all season with a pinched nerve in his neck that caused numbness in his left elbow and required multiple cortisone injections. He also had an irritated rotator cuff muscle in his throwing shoulder. Scutaro was placed on a rehab program for his shoulder, and the Sox hoped that rest would help alleviate the nerve condition, but, like Cameron, Scutaro is older (35) so the cumulative effect of his injuries takes its toll. The Red Sox won't know until Scutaro undergoes his physical at the start of camp whether they will be an issue this season, according to a club source.
• Bobby Jenks. A free-agent addition to the Red Sox bullpen, Jenks missed the better part of a month near the end of last season with inflammation of the ulnar nerve in his throwing elbow (ulnar neuritis). He had surgery on the elbow in 2004 (a pin was inserted) but nothing major since. The Sox found nothing abnormal during his physical prior to his signing with the club.
There’s always a chance, a club source said, that the club will elect to take it slowly with one or more of these players (besides the obvious constraints for Gonzalez), but as of now, there are no plans to do so.
Coming Wednesday: Will Jarrod Saltalamacchia be the team's No. 1 catcher, or will it be a Jason Varitek/Salty split?