FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox had a scheduled day off Monday. It was the first and only one of their Florida Grapefruit League schedule, a chance for most players to get away from the ballpark and spend time with family in the Gulf Coast sunshine.

Chances are, Dustin Pedroia didn’t want the day off. He’s had plenty of those since undergoing multiple knee surgeries over the past two years. Pedroia wants to play, and is expected to do so when the Sox return to the field Tuesday to face the Tigers.

The second baseman has played two games, a total of four innings and two at-bats. These are small steps forward for the former American League MVP and Rookie of the Year, but important ones for the Red Sox.

His return last Thursday was met with great fanfare, coming in a preseason game televised by ESPN. The excitement grew when he singled in his first at-bat of the spring. After the game, Manager Alex Cora downplayed it, saying Pedroia didn’t want people making a big deal out of his first steps back.

Pedroia singled in his first at-bat of the spring. He will take it slow in his return to action because playing consistently in the regular season is more important than playing in spring training. Associated Press/ John Bazemore

“My goal is not just to play in a spring training game,” the 35-year-old Pedroia told reporters the next day. “I’m trying to finish out the next three years of my contract. My goal is to find a way to do that so I don’t want everyone to get overly excited about playing two innings this early in camp. Obviously it is a big step, but the big picture is, if we’re going to try to pull this off there is a window to do it and it is not one day.”

Or two days. He returned Saturday and played two innings. He’s expected to go more than that Tuesday. Maybe four innings. It’s still a long way from what Pedroia hopes to do this summer, but the buildup is important. So are the days after his appearances.

“That’s a big part of it,” Pedroia said. “Just seeing how you respond to whatever is thrown at you because if you wake up and have swelling, or things like that, it’s hard to play catch up. We have to try to catch it before it happens.”

It hasn’t happened yet, but there’s no guarantee the swelling won’t return. Pedroia learned that the hard way last season when he battled back and returned to the lineup only to have his season shut down for good after three games. The cartilage restoration procedure he underwent – a surgery that included cartilage grafted from a cadaver – isn’t something we’ve seen in baseball before. There’s no straightforward blueprint for success.

“It ain’t even my knee,” Pedroia joked with reporters at the start of camp. “It’s somebody else’s, bro.”

He has admitted that, if he had a chance to do it over again, he wouldn’t have the surgery. It’s too late for that now. He’s plowing forward, trying to regain the durability that has made him a three-time champion.

It’s also made him a favorite among Red Sox fans. They let him know it when he stepped up to the plate as the leadoff hitter at JetBlue Park last week.

“It was great. I appreciate it so much,” said Pedroia. “I think everyone knows what I’ve been going through. It definitely pushes me towards getting back all the way and being out there every day.”

Getting out there every day will have to wait. For now, it’ll be days of work followed by days of rest. Pedroia will be the first to tell you he’s had too much rest over the past year.

He also knows learning to rest his knee will be the most important part of his goal to help the Red Sox in 2019.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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