Epstein has healthy outlook for 2011

Epstein has healthy outlook for 2011

Epstein has healthy outlook for 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a 2010 season filled with medical maladies, general manager Theo Epstein is focused on health more than anything else as Spring Training nears its official beginning.

"Health has to be the biggest question," Epstein said following Thursday's informal workout. "It usually is. But in our case, we have so many players coming off of surgery or coming off of injury that we're going to keep a close eye on them and really look forward to having a full squad of healthy players playing out there together."

The player all eyes will be on this spring is Dustin Pedroia, the fiery second baseman who fractured the navicular bone in his left foot on June 25 and underwent surgery in September.

"With Pedey, obviously we're also going to take a conservative path with him this spring," Epstein said. "The goal is to get him ready for Opening Day, not the college exhibition games."

Two other lineup cornerstones are also coming off surgery -- new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, the old first baseman who is now a third baseman.

"[Gonzalez has] been on or ahead of schedule the whole winter as measured by range of motion and strength," Epstein said. "He had been projected to start swinging March 1 and play in games the third week [of March]. If he's doing as well as it seems, there might be some flexibility to move that timetable up. We all feel like he'll be ready for Opening Day. We're excited that he's feeling so good."

As for Youkilis, health will be a complete non-factor in his Spring Training. The slugger underwent surgery to repair a torn adductor muscle in his right thumb last August.

"Youk is different from the others, because he actually made it back to a point where he was hitting without limitation in the fall, then took a break and started his normal offseason," Epstein said. "He's addressed some of the mental aspects of returning, because he got back to full BP last fall."

While leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury didn't go under the knife, his left rib fracture limited his 2010 season to 18 games. The Sox hope that the speedy center fielder will have a full recovery.

"He's been unrestricted for a while now," Epstein said. "He should be without limitations this spring. When you miss basically a whole year, it's important to get in a good rhythm and get your swing back, and that's what we're looking for."

One player you might have forgotten about is Japanese righty Junichi Tazawa, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Tazawa worked out on Thursday, but the club won't rush him.

"He's going to be in Major League camp with us, but he's not going to be unrestricted," said Epstein. "He's at that phase where he can throw off a mound, but [the] last two, three months of Tommy John rehab are pretty important, and we don't want to rush it by getting him in competitive situations too quickly, so we're going to take a longer-term view and not look at April 1 as a finish line for him, and [we will] look at the season as a whole and pace him accordingly."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.