Craig keeps plugging away amid uncertainty

JUPITER, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox outfielder Allen Craig is in no position to scoff at long bus trips. Less than three weeks into the Grapefruit League season, he has already made two 5-½ hour back-and-forth jaunts from Fort Myers to Jupiter and another lengthy trek up Florida's Gulf Coast to Dunedin.

Such is life for a veteran player coming off an injury and an uncharacteristically bad season, on a roster that's jam-packed with competition at his position. Amid all the uncertainty, every chance to make a positive impression is valuable.

Craig went 1-for-3 with a bases-clearing double in Boston's 9-4 loss to the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium on Tuesday. He's hitting .278 in 36 spring training at-bats -- second most on the team to prospect Garin Cecchini -- and looking more comfortable in his recovery from a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot that put a crimp in his 2014 production.

The more space Craig puts between himself and last summer -- when he hit .128 in 29 games with Boston after a July trade with St. Louis -- the happier he'll be.

"It makes it challenging working through things," Craig said, when asked about the foot injury. "You find yourself doing things you wouldn't normally do just to try and get by. I don't really like talking too much about injuries, because it is what it is and I was out there playing through it. A lot of guys do that.

"Last year wasn't a great year for me, but I feel like I was persistent and played through it and finished it out. I'm here now and I feel good, and that's what I'm focused on."

The Red Sox entered spring training knowing that their outfield glut would take time to sort out, and 19 Grapefruit League games haven't provided much clarity. The Sox spent $88 million in December to sign Hanley Ramirez to play left field, and Mookie Betts has been the talk of camp with his athleticism and energy in center. That only leaves so many more at-bats to go around.

Shane Victorino came into camp as the right field frontrunner, but he's coming off back surgery, and the Red Sox are still trying to determine precisely where he stands in his recovery.

"We said coming into camp that Shane Victorino when healthy is our starting right fielder, and we haven't come off that," said manager John Farrell. "But we're still in the process of him regaining his quickness and overall running speed. The one thing we're still trying to get our arms around is, what's the overall durability inside of a given week? How many games played can we plan for?"

That roster calculus leaves Craig, Rusney Castillo (who signed a $72.5 million deal in August) and Daniel Nava as players in the mix for the two remaining Opening Day outfield spots. Nava is a lock as the team's main lefty bat off the bench. So unless Castillo begins the season in the minors or an unforeseen injury incurs, something has to give with Craig.

Farrell made it a point to level with Craig early in camp: Things have changed from Craig's tenure in St. Louis, when he could look forward to 500-plus at-bats as a middle-of-the-order fixture.

"It will be a very different role for Allen," Farrell said. "We've outlined the scenario and he's fully aware of the role as it stands today. What we've tried to impart on Allen is, 'Let's just focus on spring training. Let's get you back with a sound base underneath you.' He's going to get regular at-bats, just to achieve a level of performance that he's been accustomed to.

"He's in great shape, and the foot's not an issue. He's taking better swings and having more consistent at-bats. [That time] beyond spring training is going to get here. I don't know how else we can go about it."

Other than a brief flurry of San Francisco Giants-related speculation when Hunter Pence suffered a broken left forearm early in camp, Craig-related trade rumors haven't gained much traction in spring training. Craig is owed $26.5 million over the next three seasons, so money is obviously a factor in trade talks. Any team that contemplates acquiring him will probably have to look at him as a significant piece -- not a short-term fix.

Craig continues to tune out the trade buzz and roster head-count speculation under the theory that nothing good can come of it, and the answers are beyond his control.

"I think you have to just focus on the present and not worry about trades and that type of stuff," Craig said. "Anytime you look too far ahead, you take for granted where you're at. I'm not going to take for granted that I'm on a really good team with a chance to win. I feel like we have something special here."

Until he receives a more definitive statement on his future, Craig will just keep plugging away -- one at-bat, one game and one bus ride at a time.