Loretta still adjusting to Sox

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – New Red Sox second baseman Mark Loretta once caught Padres shortstop Khalil Greene practicing fielding slides in the weight room.

“He told me if he was going to make that sliding, back-hand play, he had to practice it,” Loretta said. “He was very athletic and made the spectacular plays, the Web Gems on SportsCenter.”

Loretta hasn’t seen his teammate, Alex Gonzalez, practicing the slide, but he isn’t sure the former Marlin needs to work on his backhand.

“I have watched him from afar, and if he isn’t the best in the game, he is right up there with the best,” Loretta said. “He is so smooth and natural.”

When San Diego traded Loretta to Boston in December he was somewhat shocked, but the Red Sox’s signing of Gonzalez in February did a lot to make the transition more comfortable.

“You become spoiled playing next to a guy like Khalil,” Loretta said. ” He made a lot of plays other shortstops can’t make, but I’ve seen Gonzalez make all the plays.”

Loretta, who is in the final year of his contract, understands the trade better now than when it happened.

“It is a tough part of the game,” Loretta said. “It was San Diego’s last year of control so I understand what they did. I had been there three years, gotten to know the people and was comfortable.”

Loretta is a career .301 hitter with 63 homers and 466 RBI. His average of .245 with two strikes is fourth best among active players.

His defense didn’t match Greene, and it doesn’t match Gonzalez. Yet, Loretta has a .987-fielding percentage as a second baseman. His batting average of .280 in 2005 was due, in part, to surgery on May 24 to repair ligament damage on his left thumb. He hit .314 in 2003 and .335 in 2004.

“If you play as long as I have, things happen,” said Loretta, 34. “You can only beat your head against the wall for so long. We made the playoffs, and I came back and helped us down the stretch. It was the first time that I had been to the playoffs.”

Loretta knows the expectations are much higher at Boston.

“It is a unique place to play, but the market won’t affect his at-bats,” manager Terry Francona said. ” 1/8Loretta 3/8 is a 10-year veteran, and he will make the adjustments.”

Loretta plans to use the same formula in to Boston that he has throughout his career, and it must be working as he’s had a solid spring training.

“My strength has been consistency, playing the same way every day,” Loretta said. “If you don’t, baseball can drive you nuts. You can make a fundamentally sound swing and get a negative return. Then, you can make a poor swing and get a positive return. It is a roller coaster that you can’t ride.”

Loretta credits former Padre star Tony Gwynn with helping him stabilize his approach.

“You take as many variables out of your game as possible, and it helps turn the percentages more in your favor,” Loretta said. “Tony said, “Hit the ball as hard as you can. If you do, you will be happy more than unhappy.’ He was right.”

Loretta took that approach to the trade.

“I saw what an opportunity being in Boston was,” Loretta said. “I enjoyed the playoffs last year, and I have a chance to help Boston be there.”

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