By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- To his right, Marco Scutaro watched Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis go down with injuries. To his left, he saw Mike Lowell struggle with ongoing hip issues that eventually sent him into premature retirement.
In the outfield, prospects and journeymen filled the void after first Jacoby Ellsbury, then Mike Cameron landed on the DL with season-ending surgeries.
Scutaro could have easily joined them. He dealt with a nerve issue in his neck, resulting in weakness in his left forearm. Later, inflammation in his right rotator cuff dogged him.
Still, Scutaro played on. Limited, restricted, and in pain. But recognizing the manpower shortage the 2010 Red Sox were already faced with, Scutaro bravely remained on the field and in the lineup.
"He played the whole last two months despite the injuries," said manager Terry Francona. "He could have shut it down any time he wanted to and nobody would have said a word. And his numbers probably suffered because of it; he probably walked less because of it."
The pinched nerve in his neck in the first half was bad enough.
"It was like pretty much swinging with one arm," he recounted.
But in the second half, with his shoulder throbbing, Scutaro dealt with pain almost every day.
"I showed up one day and I swung and felt it," he said. "In the beginning, it wasn't as bad to throw. But it got worse. The first half was one arm, and then when it looked like I was getting my strength back, I had a problem with the other shoulder. All year, I had something. Hopefully, this year, I'll stay healthy."
By the final weeks of the season, with Pedroia out and Jed Lowrie available, the Sox shifted Scutaro to second base, to cut down on the strain resulting from throws on the other side of the diamond.
His offensive numbers were, on the surface, unaffected -- his .275.333.388 line was consistent with his career numbers of .267.336.385 -- but, in fact, they were down from his .282.379.409 stats from 2009, when he was in Toronto. In addition, his defensive statistics at shortstop took a dive; his errors rose from 10 to 18, and his range factor dropped from 4.39 plays per nine innings to 3.83.
Doctors told Scutaro wouldn't require surgery and instead gave him a rehab program to strengthen the shoulder with weight work and other exercises.
"It's pretty much back to normal," said Scutaro. "I just have to keep doing my routine two or three times a week."
It's Scutaro's hope that in this, his second season with the Red Sox, he can finally be the player he's capable of being.
"It's nice to feel the way you normally feel," he said. "Even if the results aren't there, at least when you show up at the ballpark, you feel like you have a chance to compete. But last year was kind of tough. There was some days when I would wake up and it was like, 'Oh my God -- I have to do so much stuff just to get loose.'
"In the end, I pretty much couldn't throw the ball more than 10 feet. I couldn't do too much stuff during BP, I had to just get my body ready for the game."
When Lowrie -- himself struck by injuries last year and the season before -- began to drive the ball in the second half, there was some speculation that a competition could be held this spring to determin the starting shortstop job.
After all, Lowrie compiled a .907 OPS after returning to action in late July, and offers more extra-base capability than Scutaro. But at the annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner in January, Terry Francona cut off the shortstop debate by declaring: "Scutaro's our shortstop."
Word of the announcement reached Scutaro at his off-season home in Miami.
"That's good to hear," said Scutaro. "When the manager says that, that gives you a lot of confidence. That makes you feel good. I was in Miami, watching TV and I heard the news?"
Scutaro was asked for his reaction the news, and tongue planted firmly in cheek, said: "We had a barbeque at night and celebrated like crazy."
Francona's decision may have been influenced in part by the respect Scutaro earned in the clubhouse last year by continuing to play hurt.
"We wanted to make sure he understood we didn't forget his sacrifice," he said. "He took at-bats because he cared and wanted to be a good teammate."
"If you see a guy going out there every day and doing stuff (while injured)," said Scutaro, "I do gain respect for him . . . For me, it was tough. But it made me feel better to stay in the lineup pretty much all year."
"He kind of ran himself into the ground last year," said Francona. "I don't know that we had a choice. But we do appreciate it.''