First pitch: Here and now

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First pitch: Here and now

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He is not, all initial appearances to the contrary, the second coming of Joe Morgan or Robbie Alomar.

In fact, there's nothing to suggest he's even an everyday major leaguer.

He's not a "kid'' as some insist on labeling him -- he'll be 27 in September, in fact -- and he's not the future, someone around whom a team can build.

Pedro Ciriaco is the present. He's right now, this week, which, with Dustin Pedroia sidelined, is all the Red Sox really need.

Ciriaco made his presence felt again Friday night as the second half the season began, looking, at least as far as Ciriaco's concerned, very much like the end of the first half.

Ciriaco had three hits, and OK, two of them were bloopers, perfectly placed rather than solidly hit. But another was driven up the middle with the bases loaded and scored two runs, enough to provide the margin of victory in the Red Sox' 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last weekend, making his debut for the Red Sox, Ciriaco introduced himself loudly, collecting seven hits in his first three games. In the second game of a day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, Ciriaco carried the Sox to their only win in the four-game set with four hits,
four RBI, two runs scored and one stolen base.

When he followed that with another three-hit night in the final game of the first half, he went into the break on a high, and, to some, the newest cult hero.

"Where's this guy been?'' wondered Red Sox fans.

All over the place, is the answer. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the Domincan Republic in 2003, he spent seven years in their system before being included in a deal to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010.

He appeared in 31 games with the Pirates in 2010 and 2011, accumulating 13 hits in those games, or three more than he's had with the Red Sox in his first four games.

A minor league free agent last winter, he enjoyed a fabulous spring training, but failed to make the roster as the Red Sox went with veteran utility man Nick Punto as the lone utility man.

He was flown to Kansas City in early May when it appeared that rookie Will Middlebrooks might need time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, but was never activated.

He returned to the Sox last week when Dustin Pedroia finally accepted the inevitable and went on the DL. And he's made people notice.

"I feel pretty good,'' said Ciriaco after his heroics Friday. "We got the win tonight. (On the two-run single), I wasn't trying to do too much, just trying to go up the middle. It'a good feeling and I feel happy to be able to help the team.

"(Getting the opportunity to play more) is huge for me. Every time I get a chance to wear the uniform and be a part of the Red Sox team is huge.''

Ciriaco is humble and hungry, appreciative and accepting. He understands he's not about to become a fixture with the Sox and there's every chance that when Pedroia returns in a week or so, Ciriaco will likely return to Pawtucket, where he'll stay until another injury befalls the Sox, or, failing that, rosters expand on Sept. 1.

But for now, he's enjoying the ride.

Bobby Valentine, who was a big Ciriaco booster in the spring, isn't under any illusions.

Asked Thursday whether Ciriaco's play was a case of a late-bloomer who suddenly had it all figured out, or just a hot streak, Valentine smiled.

"I think it's more of a good stretch, a good opportunity,'' said Valentine evenly, "taking the best of the opportunity. But there are some things he does and does pretty well.''

For now, which is all the Red Sox care about.

Dustin Pedroia taking cues from Tom Brady to extend his career

Dustin Pedroia taking cues from Tom Brady to extend his career

Dustin Pedroia is no stranger to injuries. That's a big reason why he's no longer a stranger to the sometimes peculiar practices of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

In an interview on WEEI's "Bradfo Show," Pedroia told Rob Bradford that he's been taking cues from the five-time Super Bowl-winning QB to help extend his playing career and make his body healthier and more durable.

“I understand what he does and know what he does. I think it’s awesome,” Pedroia told Bradford. “There’s a reason why he’s successful at his age (39), and he looks better now than he did when he first came to the league. You have to be smarter as you get older and learn different styles -- the way to train and the way you take care of your body to be able to perform and stay on the field. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing. He’s definitely got that figured out.”

Pedroia, of course, played the entire 2013 World Series-winning season with a torn ligament in his thumb. He's battled through various other lower body and hand injuries over the past few seasons, as well. But in 2016, he had his best season in recent memory, posting his highest OPS since 2011, as WEEI notes.

Part of that is with his own take on the Brady approach -- which focuses more on pliability and resistance training than extensive, heavy weight lifting -- and a healthier overall lifestyle, something Brady is notoriously infamous for having.

"There’s tons of ways to take care of your body. It’s not just get in the weight room and throw weights around,” Pedroia explained. “As you get older, the human body can’t take the pounding if you’re going in there and power lifting. When you’re younger, you can handle some of that. But as you get older, you got to be smarter. Sometimes less is more -- whether that’s weight or reps or whatever. You’ve just got to be smart. And eating wise, that’s a big part of recovery. If you put the right foods in your body, you’ll heal faster if you’re injured or recover faster. It’s like a car, man. Put bad gas in, bro. It’s not going to be the same as good gas.”

He hopes the approach can, at the very least, keep him moving for quite some time.

“I plan on living until I’m 100," he said. "So we’re not even halfway home."

Hanley Ramirez's shoulder already a concern for Red Sox heading into WBC

Hanley Ramirez's shoulder already a concern for Red Sox heading into WBC

Another year, another injury concern for Hanley Ramirez. This time, though, it's a bit more complicated.

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell told the media Monday that Ramirez hadn't played any first base during spring training yet due to discomfort in his right throwing shoulder.

“Well, we’re working through ramping up his throwing program,” Farrell said, via WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. “That has taken a little bit more time than anticipated coming in so we’ve got to kind of take that day to day how much we can increase the intensity with the throwing. He’s just working through some soreness with the throwing.”

As Bradford points out, Ramirez and the Red Sox went through the same process last year. Where it differs this time around is Ramirez's scheduled participation in the World Baseball Classic: He's expected to report to Team Domincan Republic on Friday, which means the Red Sox won't be monitoring his every move on the field (though the two training staffs will be communicating daily, also per Bradford).

Ramirez isn't the only first baseman on the roster, with the Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana there as well. So will Ramirez be jumping into game action anytime soon?

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. They haven’t told me anything,” Ramirez told WEEI.com “I’m just going to go there and see.”