Thursday, February 23, 2017

Panda among quartet of Sox with happy return to action

It seemed like everywhere you looked, someone from the Red Sox was making a comeback from a prolonged absence on Thursday.
Those stories, and Mitch Moreland's three-run homer in his first game action with Boston, are what made the 9-6 victory over Northeastern in the opening of spring exhibition play most meaningful.
Considering what Pablo Sandoval (left shoulder labrum surgery), Blake Swihart (left ankle surgery), Sam Travis (torn ACL in left knee) and starting pitcher Brian Johnson (anxiety/depression) were coming back from, this was a special day.
"Especially the first day, things were a little bit of a challenge because of all the months I missed playing," said Sandoval. "I feel excited to be back on the field."
Sandoval played for the first time since last April 10 and smashed a double in his second at-bat, while handling all of his chances cleanly at third. He is hoping to win back the starting job he lost last Spring Training.
"Panda, it's been nearly a year since he's been in a game, and he handled three balls cleanly," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Good to see the swing he puts on a ball for a double down the right-field line. Regardless of who the opponent is, when you miss that much time and you come back, and in his case in particular, where he's put a lot of work, it's good to see it get off on a positive note."
With abandon, Sandoval belly-flopped into second on his double. He acknowledged later that feet-first would probably be a better approach considering the type of surgery he had.
"I'm not supposed to [dive], but you don't think about it," Sandoval said. "That's the way I play."
Swihart's 2016 season ended on June 4 when he jammed his left ankle into the base of the side wall in left field at Fenway Park. But there he was against Northeastern, stroking a single up the middle in his first at-bat and hauling all the way home from first to score on a double by Steve Selsky.
"It feels good," said Swihart, who is in competition with Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez in the catching derby. "That was my first time running around the bases again, and going first to home felt fine. Every first game, everybody's adrenaline should be going. I was excited. June 4 was a long time ago. I was ready to get out there."
So, too, was Travis, who had a monster Spring Training last year for the Red Sox, only to go down for the season on May 29 while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. In the bottom of the third, Travis, ranked No. 4 among Red Sox prospects, drilled one over the replica Green Monster at JetBlue Park for a three-run shot.
"It was great," Travis said. "Hit it pretty far foul, but the wind took it back so it worked out.
Then there is Johnson, who feels like his old self physically and mentally again. The No. 12-rated Red Sox prospect struck out three over a pair of hitless innings.
"A ton better," said Johnson. "Night and day. It doesn't even compare to [last year], to be honest."
"There were a number of positive things inside an exhibition game today," said Farrell.

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