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Red Sox expect ‘no limitations’ in Stephen Drew’s return Sunday

06.15.14 at 1:10 pm ET
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There was the potential for an MRI, a trip to the disabled list and even more missed time for Stephen Drew and his ailing right oblique, but those fears were put to rest Sunday as the Red Sox shortstop makes his return to the lineup in the series finale against the Indians.

Drew will start at short and bat eighth.

“He passed his tests as far as swinging the bat with increased intensity, all the defensive work that he’€™s gone through,” manager John Farrell said. “Never really reproduced the symptoms in the oblique, so he’€™s in there tonight.”

Drew hasn’t played since last Sunday after feeling his right oblique “grab” him in his final at-bat against the Tigers. He has spent the last week nursing the injury and gradually testing the oblique in batting practice and by fielding ground balls.

Given his unfamiliarity with the injury, Drew and the Red Sox took their time working him back into the lineup, but have seen progress over the last couple of days. He expected to play without any physical limitations.

“We hope not,” infield coach Brian Butterfield said. “They erred on the side of caution just because you need him for the long haul. He’€™s an important piece. But our doctors feel good about Stephen going full throttle.

Butterfield said that Drew has “no limitations.”

“Good to go, let your hair down,” he added.

Butterfield said the oblique is particularly tough to gauge because it’s necessary for both throwing and hitting. Drew still experienced tightness during the week, and given the need for range and mobility at shortstop, it was important to have him as close to 100 percent as possible.

“He’€™s a tough guy, so he should be able to play through a little bit of pain,” Butterfield said, later adding, “‘€œI think the demands at shortstop, where you have to torque your body and throw balls on the run. You’€™re fielding balls at a lot of different positions, you have a wide throwing area. It’€™s a little difficult on the body.”

Hitting coach Victor Rodriguez said Drew “looks more natural” swinging the bat than he did earlier in the week.

“A couple of days before I think he didn’€™t trust it. He didn’€™t feel like he was healthy and he wasn’€™t letting it go,” Rodriguez said. “Now it seems like the more he hits and the more velocity he saw, he’€™s feeling more comfortable. I see a natural swing.”

Drew’s injury last Sunday was a road block in what has been a long process of trying to catch up to the rest of the Major Leagues in terms of getting his timing down at the plate and establishing a rhythm of playing every day.

Sunday will be Drew’s fifth start since returning to the Red Sox June 2 in Cleveland. He’s hitting .188 in 14 at-bats, and has been held out of the lineup against left-handed starters and pinch-hit for against lefty relievers. Farrell said he’s been playing this season a step behind the rest of the Major League players who had a full spring training and have been playing since April.

“Well you don’€™t have the benefit of a gradual build up that spring training would provide,” Farrell said. “Not only is he coming back at full speed, but he’€™s now coming back to face pitching that’€™s got a full two and a half months under their belt. Command is more consistent than what we found in spring training.

“In other words, everyone was getting in shape at the same rate, same progression. Now to jump back in, to me it’€™s a bigger jump than just the time and games missed. There’€™s a more consistency that he’€™s facing than if he were getting his first at-bats back in April. So it’€™s further challenging to come back and produce at a further level than he would realize at the beginning of the season.”

Missing the last six games battling injury only disrupts that process.

“It’€™s a tough thing to do. He didn’€™t play, he has been training and now he has to face the best pitchers in the game,” Rodriguez said. “So he’€™s tough. Just to come up here and try to get ready up here, it’€™s going to take him time, it’€™s going to take him repetitions, it’€™s going to take him at-bats.”

Starting one’s season in June is unique in itself. Farrell said there’s no specific template to getting a player up to speed mid-season, and it can certainly have mixed results. While Drew has struggled in limited playing time, Farrell cited the way Minnesota’s Kendrys Morales has thrived since joining the Twins June 9. Morales is hitting .381/.435/.524 in 23 plate appearances at designated hitter.

“You plan to get some base built, or some foundation, but there’€™s really no template,” Farrell said. “[Morales] jumped right in and had multiple hits a game. That’€™s not to say that Stephen’€™s not capable of that, but at the same time Morales is DHing and Stephen’€™s a middle-of-the-diamond player. There’€™s not one exact way to get a guy ready for the season.”

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