FORT MYERS, Fla. — Grady Sizemore chased the fly ball that floated deeper and deeper into left-center field.
Sizemore leapt into the wall to make the catch, ending the first inning of Monday’s spring training game.
After the catch, Sizemore fell to the ground. There was a second or two of concern before Sizemore popped up and jogged off the field.
“(The wall) kind of crept up on me before I knew it was there,” Sizemore said. “Lucky enough to catch it and come out with no injuries.”
Lucky? Sizemore missed the last two seasons because of injuries and was hobbled for three seasons before that. That’s a lucky guy, all right.
If anyone was feeling the luck about a St. Patrick’s Day game, it was the Red Sox themselves. They took a chance by signing Sizemore to a major league contract – only $750,000, but with incentives to make it $6 million.
A fortunate gamble.
Sizemore, 31, is having himself quite a spring, highlighted by Monday’s nationally-televised win over the Cardinals, in which he went 3 for 4 with a double while making two sensational catches in center field.
“He’s such a talented player,” pitcher John Lackey said. “If he can get even close to what he used to be, it will be a huge bonus for us, for sure.”
Lackey benefited from Sizemore’s catch in the first inning.
“Honestly, I was already walking off the field,” Lackey said. “I’ve seen him do that before.”
Before, as in 2005 to 2008, when he was one of the top center fielders, a star in the making for the Cleveland Indians.
“Maybe (Monday) was a little bit of a flashback to how good Grady was for a number of years,” said Boston Manager John Farrell, who used to be the player development director for Cleveland.
Now Farrell and the Red Sox front office must decide if Sizemore can be ready for the season on opening day.
Sizemore has missed time with injuries to his elbow, both knees and back. When he signed with Boston, one thought was that he would start the season on the disabled list and eventually go on a rehab assignment to get in playing time.
“All those things were considered and discussed,” Farrell said.
But Farrell watched Sizemore smoke line drives on Monday, including a double off the left-field wall. He is batting .381 in seven games this spring.
“The thing that has changed is what we have seen with his timing at the plate,” Farrell said. “That is more game-ready than we anticipated.”
Questions remain about Sizemore’s durability. He has not played more than two consecutive games this spring but, even if/when he does, it is impossible to replicate the grind of a 162-game season in spring training.
Sizemore is hopeful.
“I feel good enough to keep going out there every day and build off that,” he said.
Let’s look at the scenarios:
If Sizemore makes the team to open the season, the Red Sox have to make a decision about Jackie Bradley Jr., who was considered the heir to the job in center (when Bradley appeared at a dinner in Portland two months ago, he predicted that the job would not just be given to him. He was right).
Bradley could go to the minors, but then there is no backup for Sizemore, who will likely need more days off than the usual starter. Shane Victorino can play center, but the Red Sox want him in right field.
If Boston keeps Sizemore and Bradley on the roster, then someone is not going to get a lot of playing time, and another outfielder will likely go (clutch-hitting Mike Carp?).
“There are a number of factors,” Farrell said.
After being out for so long, Sizemore is taking matters slowly, and enjoying the ride.
“It’s a great feeling to be back out here and be part of a team and not be outside looking in,” he said. “That has been the case for me for a long time, sitting on the outside and being hurt and watching.”
Becoming an everyday player, “that’s the ultimate goal. But let’s get through tomorrow first before we start talking about the season. I just want to focus on spring training and keep getting better and better.”
And keep getting up, even after crashing into a wall.
“He plays instinctually. He plays full out,” Farrell said. “To ask a player to be less than that, that’s a difficult request. He knows one way to play.
“And so far, so good.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: ClearTheBases