BOSTON Left fielder Carl Crawford returned to the Red Sox lineup Monday night for the first time since Sept. 28, when his futile attempt at a sliding catch on Robert Andinos sinking liner ended the season in Baltimore.
Crawford returned Monday after missing the first 89 games recovering from surgery on his left wrist in mid-January and a subsequent sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.
Im just happy that Ill be playing in a big league game today, Crawford said. Its been awhile so Im a little nervous and all the nerves get a little worked up so at the end of the day Im just happy to be knowing Ill be back on the field.
Crawford played 10 rehab games, batting a combined .306 (11-for-36) with six runs scored, two RBI, and two stolen bases in three attempts playing for the Sox Gulf Coast League team (five games), Double-A Portland (three), and Triple-A Pawtucket (three).
Just what I normally do -- a little speed, playing some defense, get back to doing the things I normally did in Tampa., Crawford said of what he hopes to add to the team.
With the exception of Dustin Pedroia, manager Bobby Valentine has a lineup that finally looks like what he had planned on. Crawford, he said, has been cleared by the medical staff to play regularly.
Hes capable of playing a lot and he says hed like to play as often as possible, Valentine said. But well monitor his health situation like we monitor everyones and if he needs a day off well give it to him.
Crawford will be batting second. He had just 45 at-bats in that spot last season, a spot in which he has more career at-bats than any other spot in the lineup.
Definitely excited about it, Crawford said. Its no secret I like being at the top of the order. Just one of those things where I was basically getting prepared to hit anywhere in the lineup but since I saw the second theres definitely a little more excitement for me. I want to go out and try to play my best.
Seemed like the logical thing to do, Valentine said. Hes playing left field, Daniel Nava was playing left field. Daniel Nava was batting second. Its the least disruptive of anything and its like a no-brainer to me.
In addition to rebounding from his injuries, Crawford is hoping to improve on his 2011 season, his first with the Sox and the worst offensive season of his career (.255, 11 homers, 56 RBI).
I dont know if I have to prove something but I definitely want to prove to myself that I can still play this game at a high level, to contribute to the team and try to play to help make the team win, he said.
This year I said I said I wanted not to put as much pressure on myself like I did last year. So Im just going to try to relax a little bit more and understand what I need to do and understand what my game is and how I can help the team out and stick to that.
He acknowledged that last season, and the first part of this season, have not been easy on him.
Its been really frustrating for me, he said. Ive had to stay strong mentally, basically I can take care of the physical part. It was mentally that I broke down a little bit so I think Im in a good place now and understand some things better and having had that approach I think will help me out a lot this year.
Last year I think I lost a lot of confidence in myself and this year I was able to get that back and just not reading so much stuff and watching so much TV. When you have so much negative stuff about you being said you have to just kind of put that stuff behind you and go out there and have confidence in yourself and believe in yourself and thats pretty much it.
Crawford acknowledged last week, though, after his first rehab game with Pawtucket on Thursday, that he felt pressure to return to the lineup.
Its the Red Sox, they want the best team out there, he said. Im not saying anything bad about the other guys but they want to see everybody out there and I understand that and Im a big part of the puzzle that was supposed to help win the championship so I want to get back out there and try to help. Looking at it that way, you want to try to get back out there as fast as you can.
My body feels good. other than the little elbow issue, everything feels fine. My legs feel good, everything feels fine.
His elbow is still nagging at him, and hes acknowledged he will likely need surgery at some point. It doesnt bother him at the plate. But hes adjusted his throwing mechanics to accommodate his elbow. Hell also be looking for the cut-off man on throws from the outfield, rather than attempting long throws. But, in certain situations that may change.
You definitely want to try to hit the cutoff man every time, he said. Im going to be trying to do that, meaning like if a guys tagging up from third base from home and I feel like I can make the thrown, Im not going to try to hit the cutoff man. Im going to try to throw him out at home. Certainly little situations that cause me to throw the ball hard, I think I can make some throws. I just have to be careful with which ones I make.
But his arm, along with that of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who returned from the DL on Friday, has never been either fielders main weapons, Valentine said. They drilled customized cutoff plays in spring training to accommodate the pair.
All spring training we worked on relay system for a center fielder and our left fielder that we really never implemented except for those first eight days with Ells, Valentine said. So we have our shortstop and our second baseman available for these throws because we watched last year and Ells and Carl really didn't have the arm strength to deliver the ball real far. So thats all in place. We just haven worked on it since spring training. Very much.
For now, Crawford is looking forward to just playing baseball.
I hope that day is pretty soon, he said. I dont know when the elbow will stop hurting fully but at this point I feel Im in a good place where I can just go out and play baseball. Right now when I take the field Im not worried about my elbow. Im not worried about my legs. Im not worried about nothing but trying to win the game, so thats a big step for me, just knowing that at 7 o'clock Im feeling good.