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02/24/10 5:46 PM EST

Drew spent '09 dealing with sore shoulder

Right fielder feeling better after undergoing offseason surgery

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Often criticized by fans and media for not being durable enough, it should be noted that Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew played much of last season with pain in his left shoulder, which subsided once he quietly underwent surgery in the winter.

"We just cleaned up some bone spurs on my AC joint that were giving me fits throughout the year," Drew said. "We didn't know what was going on. We never took any pictures or did anything during the season, and it only got worse as the season went along. I came in around Thanksgiving, had that done and I feel great now."

Though Drew didn't have a great year in 2009, his numbers (.279 average, 24 homers, 68 RBIs, .392 on-base percentage and .522 slugging percentage) were respectable enough, particularly when you consider that he was playing through a nagging injury.

"There's things that go on throughout a baseball season that people don't realize," said Drew. "That was a thing that was not necessarily threatening the year, but it was just one of those aggravating things that you've got to do deal with, and the shots kind of helped alleviate that a little bit. But it was nice to get it taken care of so I don't have to worry about it. I asked [team medical director Tom Gill] after the surgery was over, and he said, 'I'm glad we did it when we did, because you wouldn't have made it through the year.' It was good to get it knocked out."

Now entering his fourth year in Boston, Drew has never quite captured the imagination of a fan base that prefers gritty players that leave the field with dirt marks all over their uniform. His price tag -- five years at $70 million -- hasn't helped his popularity, particularly when you consider his best statistical categories are the less obvious ones. Drew's defense is also a strength he probably doesn't get enough credit for.

But the Red Sox evaluate Drew in an entirely different way. They just want him to stay on the field, because they know the type of value that comes from that.

"What we told J.D. is that the more he's on the field, the better team we are," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He understands that. It's my responsibility that if he needs a day off, to give him one before it turns into four. Some guy's bodies [are less tolerant]. He's had shoulder problems, he's had finger issues. But it is easier now that I know him. And I think he'll talk to me, tell me how he feels. Like today, I'm not shook up that he didn't spend the whole day on the field today. We'll survive."

When you look at Drew's career stats, only one year truly sticks out. In 2004, playing for the Braves, he hit .305 with 118 runs, 31 homers, 93 RBIs and a 1.006 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

Could he have another big year like that?

"I think J.D. is always going to be held to that extra whatever because his swing is so pretty," Francona said. "He does so many things and makes it look effortless. I think he played in 137 games [last year]. I know he didn't start that many. But if he does that, he does give us a certain amount of flexibility. He can hit anywhere in the order. There's a lot of things that he brings that probably do go somewhat unnoticed by the regular fan base. Maybe we appreciate it a little bit more."

How does Drew view his 2009 season?

"You're definitely going to have your up-and-down months in baseball," Drew said. "That's just how it goes. Not too bad last year. I had some ups and downs. Starting out after the All-Star break 0-for-23 is not a nice thing, but I was able to kind of right the ship and really get on a good streak. Hopefully I can get that going again this year."

Drew has two more years left in his contract in Boston, a city that exudes intensity. Despite the fact that his demeanor is decidedly more low-key than the city he plays in, he has come to enjoy playing for the Red Sox.

"This is my fourth year in town, so I know what to expect," Drew said. "I have a good relationship with the coaching staff, the front office and all the players on the team. I think each and every guy knows each other well, so that's always key."

The town Drew resides in during the offseason -- tiny Hahira, Ga. -- entirely fits his personality. This, even though the population has finally reached four digits.

"It's grown a little bit," said Drew. "Yeah, I think it's a little over a thousand, unfortunately. There's still only one red light, though, so we're all right."

Aside from a vacation to New Mexico with his wife and kids and that detour to Boston to have surgery, Drew didn't venture too far out of the homestead.

"I didn't do a whole lot. I had a great time with the family and kids, watching those guys grow up," said Drew. "A little bit of snow late, that was exciting for us. Snow in South Georgia, that doesn't happen very often for us."

Now he's eager to get started again.

"I think we had to make some adjustments, and I think it's going to work out for the best," said Drew. "We [appreciate] the front office for what they do, and let them go out there and work in the offseason, and try and make the adjustments when the season comes together."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.