MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

The Red Sox' Dustin Pedroia, shown last season, is determined to return to his accustomed spot, second base, in 2019.

Pedroia and Ellsbury: While the Red Sox second baseman is full speed ahead for a comeback, the Yanks outfielder is hurt. Still.

PARDON THE PUN, but this is the time of year where hope SPRINGS eternal in baseball, where all teams are 0-0 and many (not enough) can have realistic goals aimed at the postseason.

It’s a time of year where comebacks begin.

But it’s also the time of year where comebacks continue to be stalled.

Which brings us to a pair of old Red Sox friends — Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

The pair, high draft picks by the Sox in 2004 and ’05 and players with World Series rings, combined to play THREE games in the major leagues in 2018.

Now, the talk out of Fort Myers, Fla., has Pedroia ready to contribute to a possible Red Sox repeat as champs. Meanwhile, the talk out of Tampa is anything but positive, as Ellsbury, who had the audacity to accept a ridiculous contract from the hated Yankees, is still on the shelf.

The Red Sox are hoping Pedroia can play 140 games.

The Yankees were hoping to swap Ellsbury, reportedly, to the Giants for the injured Johnny Cueto, whose 2019 salary could be recouped by insurance. The Giants need an outfielder and Ellsbury is still — or was — a good player when he can get on the field.

“He’s one of those guys you can never rule out,” Chris Sale said Wednesday. “I dare you to rule him out, actually because he’s out to prove a point this year. And that’s a scary thought. You take a perennial All-Star, three-time World (Series) champion, former MVP, and he wants more now. I think we’re in for some pretty awesome stuff from him this year.”

After letting Ian Kinsler walk, the Red Sox passed on the many second basemen available on the free agent market, ready to allow the rehabbing Pedroia, a .300 lifetime hitter who was on his way to the Hall of Fame before being derailed by TEN trips to the disabled list, to come back. Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin and even Eduardo Nunez are ready to fill in. Last year, they went out and got Kinsler. They could do something like that again if Pedroia can’t do it.

Dave Dombrowski is aiming at 120 games for Pedroia, which means Pedroia is aiming at 121.

“Like I told him a few months ago, just be patient,” manager Alex Cora said. “He feels he’s in a good spot. We’ll see him here. We’ll see how we’re going to work him. Obviously you’ve got to take care of him but at the same time we have to push him. .. So he’s ready for that. Looking forward to working with him the whole spring.”

The Yankees have no idea what to expect from Ellsbury, who still has $48 million coming, has rehabbed his surgically repaired hip but now has a different issue — again.

“He won’t be in camp with us initially,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously, he had hip surgery late in the year, we expected him to be here as an active player from the start.

“Just some issues that he had with his plantar fascia that kind of crept up as he was going through his rehab this winter. We feel like he is making really good progress but he’s going to stay in Arizona for the next couple of weeks. Hopefully when he’s really ready to dive into baseball activities, sometime in March, then he’ll join us.”

If all goes well, the Yankees might be able to showcase Ellsbury through the remainder of spring training and then get a bite while eating much of the remaining salary.

Comeback honors

Pedroia, if he can play, is automatically a comeback player of the year candidate, but Cora made it clear on the first day of camp his VOTE is already cast.

For Jonny Miller.

A few months removed from suffering a stroke on a plane to Los Angeles for Games 3-5 of the World Series, the WBZ radio reporter — and close friend of many of us — is back on the job in Fort Myers. He flew to Florida in January and is hard at work.

“(Pedroia) said in the newspaper he’s going to be Comeback Player of the Year, but you’ve got that one already,” Cora told Miller. “So I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

Speaking of comebacks, Sean McDonough is back with the Red Sox, one of EIGHT rotating voices working radio with Joe Castiglione this season. The rest? Chris Berman, Josh Lewin, Lou Merloni, Mario Impemba, Dale Arnold, Tom Caron and Dave O’Brien. There will be some three-in-the-booth.

Tuukka time

Tuukka Rask gave up a soft goal to the Blackhawks Tuesday night at TD Garden. But his teammates, playing their first game without David Pastrnak, took over from there, swarming the defensively challenged Hawks in a 6-3 victory. Rask didn’t have to do much the rest of the night and didn’t have a great game. But he won — again.

Remember early this season when Tuukka lost his No. 1 spot to Jaro Halak? Remember his personal leave. Well, now Rask is 10-0-2 in his last 12 starts and hasn’t lost a game in regulation since Dec. 23. He allowed two goals or fewer in nine of the 12 games.

Losing Pastrnak for at least two weeks certainly hit the Bruins on two fronts, on and off the ice. Obviously, they will miss the talented winger on the ice, but the trade deadline is right in the middle of him being out and you know GM Don Sweeney’s hunt for a top six forward got tougher as rival GMs know they can ask for more.

Take a break

The same night the Bruins beat the Hawks to go to 5-0-3 in their last eight games, the Celtics, coming off two dreadful home losses to the L.A. teams (and the accompanying yapping off the court), strolled into Philadelphia and beat the rebuilt Sixers — without Kyrie Irving. They then completed the back-to-back by cruising past the Pistons, without Irving AND Terry Rozier.

They hit the All-Star break at 37-21, 7-3 in their last 10 games. The top five spots in the Eastern Conference are already set, but the order isn’t. Boston’s play right out of the break — at Milwaukee and Toronto in a three games in four nights — could tell us something.

And there’s more Irving controversy. Should he play in the All-Star Game or rest his knee and other various ailments?

The Celtics say they want him to PLAY.

Speaking on 98.5 The Sports Hub Wednesday, coach Brad Stevens said, “I actually look at it as, to be honest with you, if he can — it’s a good thing to be able to run up and down the court a little bit because he hasn’t played in a while.”

Turn back to the clock

Tommy Heinsohn was back to his old self Wednesday night. Hammering the refs over the disparity in free throws (people always forget to mention the Celts are an outside-shooting team and it’s tougher to get fouled 28 feet from the basket), Heinsohn was really upset over Daniel Theis not getting any calls.

“Somebody out there hates Germans, that’s all I can say,” he said.


The great Bill Russell turned 85 Tuesday, Bob Ryan tweeting: “From ‘55-89 Bill Russell, 85 today, played for 16 championships (USF, Olympics, Celts). He won 14 and was hurt in ‘58. ‘67 only legit loss. Greatest documented winner ever.”

Anyone care to argue?

Finally, I will be appearing on Ken Cail’s WTPL/WEMJ radio show — Ken will be in Fort Myers for the week — Monday at 1:05 p.m.


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