BOSTON — As a trade deadline approaches where the Red Sox cannot afford to spend much in dollars or prospects, a handful of tricky health situations loom over the team. The safest approach the Sox can take is one where they assume Dustin Pedroia and Tyler Thornburg are bonus additions, not essentials for the 2018 team’s division run. Where Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski operates as though that duo, both coming back from surgery, will be limited the rest of the season.
In actuality, both may contribute near daily at a high level after both underwent surgeries with particularly complex rehab processes. But it’s a matter of caution and contingency planning, a choice in perspective and evaluation, as the non-waiver deadline approaches.
Thornburg is closer to returning than Pedroia. The former is set for two innings on Wednesday with Double-A Portland and then another appearance on Saturday at Triple-A Pawtucket. But even if Thornburg has turned a corner physically, the Sox shouldn’t assume trouble is only in the rearview.
The Sox already have their eye on bullpen help and a right-handed hitting infielder. The question seems to be whether that right-handed bat can handle second base, or fits as more of a corner infield type. Brock Holt has been very good for the Sox, but is a lefthanded hitter who has barely played vs. southpaw pitching.
Dombrowski on Tuesday gave his outlook on the deadline in regards to Pedroia in an interview with NESN.
“Well, it’ll factor into it, but I can’t say that it’ll factor largely into it,” Dombrowski said. “Because I think when you look at our club, one thing we’re looking for is some improved production vs. left-hand pitching. So of course Dustin can help that, he’s a righthand hitter, he’s a good hitter. Some of our left-handed hitters can be better in that regard too and some of our righthand hitters can be better in that regard. We have been a little bit here recently in a couple of games. So that could influence it, but I can’t say that it would influence it in a major proportion.
“Because at second base, I’d feel comfortable if you said Holt and Nunez are playing there for us the rest of the year. Maybe they’re not Dustin, but they can still do a solid job. Holt has really played well I think in this year, and Nunez has never played second base this much. He continues to get better from I think an offensive perspective. He will [continue to.] He has not been the offensive performer he was last year. But I think between the two of them they can handle it very well.”
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Pedroia’s still in a waiting game, for consecutive days without knee soreness. A baseball source said Tuesday “it’s simply a matter of time” and that they fully expect Pedroia back this season.
“He’s had good days, he comes in and feels great,” Sox manager Alex Cora said Tuesday of Pedroia. “But then the next day is not a great day, so we’re looking for him to have three or four days in a row where he feels good. It’s frustrating for everybody, especially for him, but at the same time we’ll take our time. … Hopefully when he comes back, it’s for the rest of the season. And also I think we have to make sure he’s OK the rest of his career.
“He’ll probably, when we go to New York [at the end of the week], he’ll stop by and go see him [his knee surgeon] again and go from there. As of now, everything that he’s doing, everything that we’re doing in the training room, in the weight room, is according to the doctors the things that we have to do."
Starting pitcher Steven Wright went to the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday. Wright’s left knee, which was operated on in similar fashion to Pedroia’s left knee, was still in a rehab process. Just because he was pitching at a high level did not mean that the surgery he underwent in May 2017 and its recovery were entirely behind him.
Wright and Pedroia are in similarly unpredictable situations. But the Sox’ rotation depth is stronger than their depth on the infield or in the bullpen. The priorities the Sox have at the trade deadline probably should not shift to a starting pitcher because of the Wright news alone. There’s a front four of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, with a reasonable hope that one or both of Drew Pomeranz or Wright will be able to help down the stretch from the back-end.