BOSTON — More than seven months after an internal brace procedure secured Trevor Story’s right elbow, the shortstop is returning to the Red Sox.
Manager Alex Cora said over the weekend he didn’t expect Story back until at least Thursday. But the 30-year-old arrived at Fenway Park on Monday, met with Cora and told him he was ready to play, even if under a modified schedule.
“This is my biggest passion in life, is playing baseball,” Story said on Monday. “When you can’t do it for 10 months, it weighs on you a little bit. So just really excited to jump in this race of being back with the guys and helping the guys on the team.”
Story is still building up stamina in the field, so the plan is for him to play every other day in the field for the time being while also mixing in some days at designated hitter. Next week, he hopes to start playing back-to-back games in the field.
“Rather than, go every other day in Worcester again,” he said. “It’s kind of my goal to be ready to go (Tuesday) and go every other day here for at least this first week.”
It’s been a laborious process since the January elbow surgery, one filled with ups and downs, but Story is finally back in the lineup and in the field. The Red Sox have struggled mightily at shortstop all season to fill the void created by his injury, and Cora was excited about the prospect of having Story back on the field.
“A few years ago, he was one of the best defensive shortstops in the big leagues, I don’t think that has changed,” Cora said. “It’s a matter of him getting repetitions. Obviously we have to protect him. Don’t be surprised if in the beginning it’s one day, one day off, one day, one day off until we feel like he’s a full go.”
Now the question remains, is his return too late to shore up their defense, lengthen their lineup and help the Red Sox pull back into contention?
On Monday, Pablo Reyes’ grand slam in the bottom of the ninth snapped the Red Sox’s four-game losing streak and gave them a 6-2 win over the Royals, yet they still sit five games back of the third wild-card spot with 50 games left.
“Obviously, we took a hit this weekend odds-wise and games-wise, whatever you want to call it, but we’ve still got time,” Cora said. “Getting one of the best shortstops in the league, one of the best athletes in the league, of course, it’s refreshing and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Story was allotted the normal 20 days for rehabbing players, but for an injury as significant as his, the build-up, particularly playing in the field on consecutive days, proved to be a challenge. He did so this past week with Triple-A Worcester, but didn’t feel 100 percent in the days that followed. He tried pushing himself, but also didn’t want to risk further complications.
“You want to help the team as much as you can,” Story said. “For me, it’s on the field. You got to play a fine balance, though, too. I don’t want to put myself at risk to do anything silly or have a setback. So I think I did this thing — we did this thing — as well as we could. And I think it kind of works out. And it’s kind of smart to do the every-other-day thing right now so that I can push the back-to-back to the next week, which gives me a little more time to adapt to that and also get in there and get the lineup quicker.”
In 13 rehab games, three with Double-A Portland and 10 with Worcester, Story went 12-for-40 (.300) with four homers and four doubles. In the field, he felt he tested his arm as much as he could and isn’t holding anything back on throws.
“I think I’ve checked all those boxes in practice and in games down at Triple A,” he said. “Got some of the hard ones out of the way, some barehanded plays, on the run, backhand, spinning throws, all the things that I like to do on a normal basis. So I feel really good about all the throws, there’s not one in particular that I’m like shying away from or anything like that. That’s a big part of this process. I need to feel that way if I’m going to play the way I know I can.”
The Red Sox’s 40-man roster currently sits at 39, but with Chris Sale set to return to start on Friday against the Tigers for his first start since June 1, the Red Sox will need to make a move by later this week. Either way, a player will be optioned off the 26-man roster on Tuesday to make room for Story. With newcomer Luis Urias handling a majority of second base reps since his call-up, it’s likely Yu Chang and Reyes are battling for the last spot.
If that’s the situation, Reyes made his case on Monday. The 29-year-old, who’s played 15 games at shortstop since the Red Sox acquired him from Oakland in a minor league trade for cash considerations in May, had a breakout night at the best time.
He singled to lead off the third inning advanced to second on a steal and then to third on an errant throw before scoring the first run of the game on a Masataka Yoshida sacrifice fly. In the fifth, Reyes doubled with one out and scored on a Connor Wong double. And in the ninth, his grand slam capped a much-needed win for the Red Sox.
“He’s a good kid and there’s a reason he’s here,” Cora said of Reyes. “We like his versatility. We like his at-bats against lefties. You saw it (Sunday), controlling the zone against righties. He is a good player … He played great up the middle, turned a few double plays. It was a great game for Pablo. I’m very proud of him.”
Whether the Red Sox opt to stick with Reyes or Chang, either play will still be seeing plenty of playing time as Story ramps back up in the field. Story played second base last season with Xander Bogaerts entrenched at short, but the plan entering this season before surgery was to move Story back to short. Even with the longer throw, and seemingly more pressure on the arm, Story is confident about his ability to play the position.
“I know that’s a special thing to call yourself the shortstop of the Boston Red Sox,” he said. “I feel like that’s where my home is, is at short. And that’s how I’ve always kind of attacked defense is with that shortstop mindset, and now my arm is feeling really good and healthy to do it so I’m excited to get out there.”
It will undoubtedly take Story some time to catch up to big-league pitching after not playing in a major-league setting since last September. But just having him back had Cora optimistic on Monday.
“Him here means a lot. His presence means a lot. The bat means a lot. The baserunning part of it means a lot,” Cora said. “And if you remember him playing shortstop, he was elite. He feels good about his arm. He feels good about his actions.”
(Photo: Winslow Townson / Getty Images)