The physical therapist in me liked what I saw Thursday when I checked in on the Boston Red Sox as they faced the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. Three key players whose 2010 seasons were cut short by injuries were on the field making plays as if they hadn't missed a beat.
Fantasy baseball owners and Red Sox fans will be happy to know that the team as a whole is on the mend following an injury-plagued 2010 season. Only two key players I wanted to check on did not play Thursday. But second baseman Dustin Pedroia (foot surgery) was out of the lineup only because he will be making the lengthy bus trip to Kissimmee on Friday when the Red Sox face the Houston Astros. And newly acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (shoulder surgery) has taken batting practice and could see game action next week.
Corner infielder Kevin Youkilis was at third base Thursday and played like the seasoned veteran he is, hitting his first double of the spring. Forget that he had thumb surgery in August to repair a torn adductor muscle (at the base of the thumb). Youkilis was hitting and throwing as far back as October, making his injury seem like a distant memory.
Meanwhile, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury turned in four innings in center field. He didn't manage a hit, but he looked to be in great shape. Most importantly, he didn't make any physical contact with the ground or another player; considering his 2010 woes, that's a good thing. By all accounts, those who have been watching him this spring, including ESPNBoston.com writer Gordon Edes, have been saying he looks solid and appears to be past the rib injuries that plagued him in 2010.
The player who garnered the bulk of my attention, however, was Mike Cameron. The 38-year-old outfielder (who, incidentally, is in better shape than many twenty-somethings) served as a DH on Thursday and put his body through some physical tests. Cameron, who underwent surgery in the offseason to address a bilateral sports hernia, showed no hesitation diving headfirst for third base when he had to return quickly following a lineout. He got up carefully, dusted himself off, then scored on the next play. Two innings later, Cameron took a more traditional foot-first slide into second base but was out as the result of a double play. Perhaps most importantly, from my perspective, Cameron's play was instinctive and aggressive, not guarded or tentative.
After the game, Cameron confirmed that he feels great physically. Although he was the DH Thursday, he has spent time in the field and feels that he has put himself through all the necessary paces to know he's fully healthy.
Pointing out that he has been rehabbing "since Aug. 27, four days after surgery," Cameron says he's physically ready; it's just a matter of getting reps in after being out for so long.
"I've been out of baseball since July," Cameron said. "Now it's just a matter of getting back in the groove. I'm feeling good, and my swing feels more powerful now."
And while he has been out of baseball since July, he was playing hurt long before that. Cameron said he was injured first on the right side, then about 10 days later on the left. Sports hernia injuries most notably sap an athlete's power, making it virtually impossible for him to run. I asked him how he had been able to last as long as he did. Cameron acknowledged that he lost his power -- both in the field and at the plate -- but he wanted to try to keep going as long as he could. He would play one day, then take two off, but eventually it was time to shut it down for the season.
"It was tougher mentally than anything," said Cameron when speaking about the lack of energy he felt from his body when trying to perform. "But I had to adjust to what was given to me. I think it's good for me now to understand what the body goes through."
Cameron says he is focused on staying healthy, and he stays loose in the dugout -- he has extra energy to burn when serving as the DH -- by doing simple exercises and stretches.
Now that's something a physical therapist likes to see.