|On day he steps up in the late innings, Dustin Pedroia says health woes are behind him||06.27.12 at 7:01 am ET|
Truth be told, even before his thumb injury, Dustin Pedroia‘s game-changing hits this year seemed few and far between.
Prior to Tuesday night, in 2012, he had just four go-ahead hits all year, and none after the fifth inning. In 44 plate appearances in late and close situations (defined as the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one run or with the tying run on deck), he was hitting just .194 with a .341 OBP, .306 slugging mark and .646 OPS, along with just two runs batted in all year.
But, of course, in recent weeks, those struggles have come in tandem with a torn adductor muscle in his thumb. And so, as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and the game tied, 1-1, it seemed reasonable to temper expectations.
That being the case, Pedroia delivered a hit that arguably ranked as his most meaningful of the season for its multi-fold significance. He bounced a 1-0 sinker from former teammate David Pauley back up the middle for a two-run single that gave the Red Sox a 3-1 advantage en route to a 5-1 victory. The hit represented both a meaningful moment in its own right — Pedroia’s first go-ahead hit in the late innings this year — and, perhaps more significantly, underscored the idea that the second baseman is starting to feel healthy again after struggling for several weeks with his thumb injury.
“My thumb feels good. That was a big part. I was switching bats, trying to find something that was comfortable for me,” said Pedroia. “I think over the last three and a half, four weeks, I’ve kind of healed up and I feel normal. I took my lumps there for a while and now I feel good, so I can produce runs for our team.”
He is offering some limited evidence to back that claim. From May 13 to June 22 — a stretch that included the week he missed while resting the torn adductor muscle in his thumb — Pedroia hit .189 with a .235 OBP, .230 slugging mark and .464 OPS. In that span, he had just five extra-base hits (all doubles) while striking out 19 times and walking on just seven occasions. He was routinely getting beaten by fastballs, something that rarely happens when his hands are right, given his ability to manipulate the bat with his off-the-charts hand-eye coordination.
But now, there are signs of improved health. He hasn’t struck out in nine games. After going 1-for-3 with a walk on Tuesday, he has hits in four straight contests, during which he is 7-for-14 with three walks, a double and a triple, good for a line of .500/.588/.714/1.303.
“About five or six days ago I started to feel better. You could tell in [batting practice] that my bat speed is back,” said Pedroia. “I’m starting to drive the ball. Health is a big part of me being successful at the plate.”
That being the case, if his game-winning hit was an indication of a clean (or at least cleaner) bill of health, then the meaning of the hit could prove far greater than a single victory in June.
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