Toughness and intelligence are not synonymous. There may be not be a better example of the distinction between those two characteristics than the situation surrounding Dustin Pedroia‘s most recent injury to his right thumb.
According to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, Pedroia will return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night as the Red Sox open up a three-game set against the Orioles.
Pedroia has been out of commission since he was removed from the game against the Tigers on Memorial Day. MRI results ultimately indicated that the scrappy second baseman had partially torn a muscle in his thumb. As a handful of days passed, it was revealed that Pedroia originally suffered the injury on May 2nd, a home game against the Athletics, during an at-bat against reliever Ryan Cook. He fouled off a pitch, clearly grimacing afterwards.
(As an aside, I was at that game in May. It was a cold, rainy Wednesday night at Fenway. No one wanted to be there, whether you were in the bleachers or at the plate.)
Since that game against the A’s, Pedroia had been able to successfully manage the discomfort in his right thumb. During the 24 games that followed Pedroia’s foul ball against Cook, the former AL MVP hit at a .296/.360/.429 clip. He slugged two home runs during that time. Nothing exemplary, but certainly more than acceptable.
Prior to the injury, it is safe to assume that Pedroia was nothing but healthy. In the 23 games that led up to the game in which he originally hurt his thumb, Pedroia’s numbers are surprisingly similar his statistics mentioned above. His slash line of .296/.337/.469 compares favorably. From Opening Day in Detroit through May 1st, the All-Star second baseman clubbed three home runs, just one more than he would eventually hit with an ailing thumb.
Essentially, Pedroia remained the same player, despite operating with an injury to the worst part of a ballplayer’s body–his hands. Nevertheless, the former Rookie of the Year successfully took batting practice in Toronto over the weekend. He did use a brace during the sessions. According to Bradford, if Pedroia was able to pass a final examination on Monday, he would be ready to go on Tuesday.
Apparently, he aced the test.
So we are here. The Red Sox and Pedroia have avoided a trip to the disabled list. He would have only missed six games. Nick Punto will go back to his familar position–the bench, while Pedroia returns to second base. He will bat in the tw0-hole against Jason Hammel, a right handed pitcher that he has worn out (4-7).
It is very likely that this aggressive approach will work out. If anyone can do it, Pedey can. Red Sox players, fans, and members of the media will applaud Pedroia for his toughness, and his legacy in Boston will be augmented yet again.
However, there is always a chance that this backfires. Pedroia could go out tonight, get buried with a hard sinking fastball, and re-aggravate his injury, forcing him to go on the disabled for who knows how long. It would be ignorant to ignore the inherent gamble that Pedroia and the Red Sox are making.
I’m not a doctor, but I have to think that rest and rehabilitation would help heal a torn adductor muscle in one’s thumb more than taking at-bats against the best pitching in the world (that isn’t a compliment directed the Fighting Showalters, but rather for Major League Baseball as a whole).
But that’s just not Pedroia. If he feels as though he can help the team win, you’re going to need to do more than threaten to place him on some sort of silly list that says he can’t play for 15 days.
And that’s why he is a beloved figure in a city that cares a tiny bit about its baseball. It’s why Jacoby Ellsbury could have another MVP-like year in 2013, as he did in 2011, and he still will not surpass Pedroia in the fickle court of public opinion. Toughness is a quality that is lauded. It is met with immediate respect and deservedly so.
But toughness does not beget intelligence.
Maybe it will breed luck.