MLB: Boston Red Sox-Workouts

Dustin Pedroia is back. He singled and scored on Thursday in his return to action.

ONE SMALL STEP.

For a small player who holds such a big piece of the hearts of Red Sox fans everywhere.

Dustin Pedroia played two innings in Florida Thursday.

Two innings. In an exhibition game. A single on his second swing. A run scored. A ground ball.

It was no big deal, unless you’re talking about a 35-year-old former MVP and still a team leader despite playing in only three games last season.

“So far, so good,” Pedroia told ESPN after leaving the game. It was great to be out there.”

He said he realizes “I can’t do the stuff that I’ve done,” but how important would it be for Pedroia to give this team 125-130 games as the Red Sox look to be the first team since the 2000 Yankees to repeat?

Baseball Prospectus projects just 327 plate appearances for Pedroia, with seven homers, 36 RBIs and a .750 OPS. That would appear, on paper, to be the minimum.

What if gets closer to the maximum?

Says manager Alex Cora, who has Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez ready for times Pedroia’s not available: “He’s not the young kid that screams to the world, ‘I’m gonna be fine!’ He’s an old man — don’t tell him that — he’s a veteran guy who understands the process and needs to be patient.”

Thursday was like any other game day for Pedroia, which means showing up at the park before anyone else.

“He’s been in full uni since, like, 7 o’clock,” Cora said, noting the key for Pedroia is not what happened Thursday, but rather what takes place today — the day after. This is a process. One that won’t be rushed. But Thursday was another step.

Suspended animation

For the second straight year, Steven Wright begins the season under MLB suspension. Last year it was 15 games for a domestic incident. Now it’s 80 games — plus the potential postseason — for PED use.

Both costly, both in what it costs the knuckleballer and to his reputation and future in the game.

The money? A total of $756,990 for the two suspensions, a whopping $650,538 for missing one game shy of half a season in 2019.

While two of his important pitchers — Chris Sale and Rick Porcello — have both been outspoken against drug users, Cora, asked if he’s disappointed in Wright, who could have been an important part of the bullpen, said, “I mean, yeah, you always think about that but he’s not the first one. He’s not going to be the last one. I think MLB is doing an outstanding job trying to clean the game.”

While Porcello has been outspoken about how players should be more severely punished, Sale wears “All Me, PED Free” and “All Me” T-shirts. Now, they have one of the scarlet letter guys among them.

“He hasn’t asked me to have a meeting or whatever, but I know he has talked to players,” Cora said Thursday. “I think that’s the right way to do it.

“He’s part of the team. And the suspension is what, 80 games? And he’s still part of the organization. So we have to make sure he’s healthy, he goes through the progression just like every other player that has been suspended. You go through the list. They come back and they play.”

Wright wasn’t likely to be ready for Opening Day as he deals with his surgically repaired knee, but Cora said, “We still have to get him ready because if he’s healthy and he’s ready to go, he might be part of this roster in the second part of the season.”

Not so toxic

Remember the start of this week? Remember when the Celtics were being called a “toxic environment?” Remember when the season was over? When this under-achieving team had nothing left to play for?

Two games later, things have changed.

A lot.

First, they travel across the country and hammered the champion Warriors, who were missing Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston and had Kevin Durant simply mailing in his performance. Gordon Hayward had a 30-point game in Oakland and then hit the winning shot at Sacramento — a win scored with suddenly public enemy No. 1 Kyrie Irving sitting with a leg injury.

It’s only two games, but you saw what this team is capable of doing. Especially if Hayward is indeed finally back.

“That long plane ride helped us out. I’ll just say that.”

Simple enough?

After the Golden State win, Irving said, “When we’re all clicking like that, we’re hard to beat.

“We put a lot of emphasis on being connected, being together ... finally we put some action to it ... it could be anybody’s night on this team, we gotta be OK with that, we gotta be OK with guys being great ... we all gotta be able to share the wealth with each other.”

Charles Barkley weighed in on Irving this week, saying, among other things, “Kyrie Irving has to be one of the most miserable people I’ve ever seen.”

Durant thinks the Celtics are still a factor, saying, “They’re right up there at the top. They’ve been losing a couple games but they’ve got the top talent, some of the top talent on that team so they’ll be fine once the playoffs start.”

Arrest fallout

Robert Kraft is still alleged to have done what he was arrested for in Florida. He may wind up being found not guilty. But the court of public opinion is another thing entirely.

That means his public image.

Heck, much of the country already hates the Patriots for so many different reasons. This is just another thing — and this time it’s local.

Care2 started an online petition aimed at having Proctor and Gamble, Gillette’s parent company, drop its naming rights at the stadium. By midweek there were over 13,000 signatures on the petition.

“Robert Kraft believed his power would protect him from being held accountable for exploiting vulnerable women forced into sex slavery,” Care2 spokesman Rebecca Gerber told WHDH news. “This is exactly the kind of behavior Gillette said it will stand against.”

Kraft, whose arraignment on his two misdemeanor charges is set for March 29, maintains his innocence.

The New York Daily News wants Kraft banned from the NFL, Jane McManus writing, At first it may have seemed funny, a sort of karmic justice for the owner of a championship NFL franchise, considered the most powerful man in the league. But the allegations against Patriots owner Robert Kraft, which he has denied, are deeply disturbing.”

By the way, Forbes ranked Kraft as the third-richest person in the state of Massachusetts, with a worth of $6.5 billion.

Please come to Boston

It’s not exactly tampering, but Tom Brady and Odell Beckham Jr. “chatted” on Instagram, with Brady posting a picture of his Aston-Martin and Beckham commenting on it and Brady inviting him to come to town “for a test drive.” You don’t have to read too far between the lines to figure out Brady wouldn’t mind finishing his career throwing to OBJ, who has a new contract from the Giants but could be traded soon as the Giants continue making puzzling moves.

Jamie Collins led the Browns in tackles last year. He was released. He just might make sense for the Patriots. Remember, he was a Pro Bowler in 2015.

A series of other events (franchise tags to comparable players) has left Trey Flowers in outstanding free agent position with the new NFL year starting next Wednesday.

Wrote NBC’s Peter King: “Of all the front-seven impact players with bright futures who could be free Tuesday, there’s a good chance Flowers will be the only unrestricted free agent; the Patriots don’t usually break the bank for their own free-agents at the top of the market (see Nate Solder), so I would expect someone (the Jets, perhaps) to pay the 25-year-old Flowers somewhere around $17 million a year. If so, the Patriots would be likely to get a 2020 third-round compensatory pick in return … that pick will be very close if not right on the nose to number 101 overall, five years after New England used the 101st pick on Flowers.”

.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.