Sizemore wins CF job, and now the test begins

Sizemore wins CF job, and now the test begins
March 28, 2014, 11:15 am
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Finally revealing the worst-kept secret of the Grapefruit League, the John Farrell revealed Friday that Grady Sizemore will indeed be the team's starting center fielder when the regular season opens Monday in Baltimore.

Sizemore, who had missed all of the previous two seasons and played just 104 games in the last four seasons combined, overcame enormous odds to win the roster spot.

He answered every test put to him, the last of which came Thursday night when he played his third game in as many days and experienced no physical issues.

Now, however, comes the hard part.

For as much as Sizemore has already accomplished and overcome, his comeback journey is, in fact, just beginning. And it will only get more difficult.

It's one thing to pass a spring-training test, in a controlled environment, I's quite another to endure the rigors of a 162-game season.

Not that the Sox expect Sizemore to become an iron man. In fact, the team spent the last 10 days of camp fashioning a backup plan for Sizemore, getting both Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino playing time in center to acclimate themselves.

Sizemore won't be expected to play every day, at least not initially. But as the season progresses, so will the expectations.

As good as Sizemore was in the Grapefruit League, he'll have to prove even more in the regular season.

Then, it won't be possible to play just five or six innings, as he did for the first few weeks of spring. He won't get to skip road trips and bus rides.

Most of all, the games will be faster, the competition better and the intensity greater. In the late innings, he'll face a proven set-up man and then an experienced closer, as opposed to a kid from Double-A trying to make an impression for the future.

There will be long plane rides, different time zones and less recovery time between games. There will be day games after night games and the Sox will find themselves playing almost three weeks in a row at times without a single day off.

There'll be cold weather, especially early in the season. In the first three weeks alone, the Red Sox will play games in Baltimore, Boston, New York and Chicago, none of which will be anywhere near as balmy as Fort Myers.

Sizemore knew all of this, of course, when he embarked on his comeback. He chose the Red Sox because he knew Ben Cherington, Farrell and Mike Hazen from their time together in Cleveland, and because of his familiarity with some members of the training staff, a staff which devised a comprehensive training program tailored especially for him.

In some ways, the training staff's work is just beginning, too. Sizemore requires hours of therapy each day, just to help his body recover form the previous day and get prepared to play the next. It's fair to say that Sizemore will probably spend more time in the trainer's room than any Red Sox outfielder since Andre Dawson brought his creaky knees to Boston near the end of his Hall of Fame career.

This spring, scouts marveled that Sizemore's bat speed and instincts hadn't lessened during his forced absence. That's a testament to Sizemore's hard work, dedication and perseverance.

But really, the battle is just beginning.

All along, Farrell acknowledged that, no matter what Sizemore did this spring, it would ultimately prove nothing in regard to the regular season. If Sizemore had played every single game in the Grapefruit League schedule, it would equal less than a fifth of the regular season.

There's no replicating the conditions and demands he'll face. The Red Sox are merely projecting that, managed carefully, Sizemore can be a useful player, and for now, represents a better alternative than Jackie Bradley Jr.

Beyond that, the player and the team go into the regular season relatively blind.

None of which is to underestimate exactly how far Sizemore has already come. Few believed he would make it to Opening Day intact. He's done that.

What happens in the next six months, however -- heck, the next six weeks -- remains unknown.

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