FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For only the second time in eight years, the Red Sox appear poised to open a season without Nomar Garciaparra in the starting lineup. The All-Star shortstop, recovering more slowly than he hoped from tendinitis in his right Achilles' tendon, seems likely to join Trot Nixon and Byung Hyun Kim on the disabled list when the Sox begin the season next Sunday night.
Asked about Garciaparra's readiness for the opener against the Orioles in Baltimore, team physician Bill Morgan said, "I think it's more unlikely as time goes on. We wouldn't rule it out now, but I think it's getting more unlikely."
As the Sox prepared to send Nixon to Miami, where a neurological specialist will oversee his recovery from a mildly herniated disk, Morgan indicated that he does not expect Garciaparra to appear in the team's final exhibition games. Nor did the doctor consider it likely that Garciaparra would see action in minor league games before the opener.
"We're probably still looking at another week or two for Nomar to be back playing," Morgan said after evaluating Garciaparra's injury at City of Palms Park.
Barring an unexpected burst of progress, Garciaparra most likely also will miss the home opener April 9 against the Blue Jays. Under major league rules, players must sit out at least the first six days of the season if they are placed on the disabled list retroactive to spring training. That means Garciaparra could return no earlier than April 10 if he started the season on the DL.
"I'm definitely going to be out a few more days," he said after the evaulation. "I knew that. As far as the opener is concerned, I'm really taking it day by day."
Before Morgan saw him, Garciaparra said, "It's coming slowly. I'm able to do a little more every day, so it's progressing the way they expected. It's just slower than I'd like."
The Achilles' tendon was injured March 5 when a ball struck him in batting practice. He tried to play through the pain but that may have aggravated the injury. All told, he has played in four games and gone 0 for 8.
"It was probably more on me because I went out there and played," he said. "I probably should have taken it off, but I was thinking, `It's all right, it's a bruise, I can play through this pain.' And I did, not realizing that it was causing more inflammation in an area where it's hard to get out. That was really the case more than anything."
Garciaparra played in only 21 games in 2001 after undergoing surgery Opening Day to repair a split tendon in his right wrist. He suffered the injury when he was hit with a pitch Sept. 25, 1999, by Baltimore's Al Reyes. But his current injury is not nearly as severe, according to Morgan.
Other than lingering inflammation, Garciaparra's Achilles' tendon "is perfect," Morgan said. "It's not an impending rupture or anything of that nature. If it were an impending rupture, he'd be in a cast and doing nothing."
Garciaparra has continued light workouts, including taking grounders and swinging in the cage. If the Sox were in the heat of a pennant race, Morgan said, Garciaparra would be playing. But rather than risk the problem lingering all year, the Sox want to let the injury heal.
"I'm not frustrated or upset," said Garciaparra. "I just want to take care of this and make sure I'm all right so I can go out there and help the team the best I can." As for Nixon, who is expected to miss at least the first month of the season, he will report tomorrow to the University of Miami Spine Institute to begin a strength and conditioning program supervised by Dr. Barth A. Green, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the university's medical school and director of clinical research for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
Green recently worked with Anaheim outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who has been plagued with back problems.
"His symptoms are much improved but they're not resolved," Morgan said of Nixon. "He still has a little pain intermittently in his buttocks. He has no problems strengthwise, no problems with numbness. There's no problems that would suggest any severe nerve root impingements. He's progressing, but we're following the six-week recommendation from [back specialist] Dr. [Robert] Watkins."
The Sox hope Nixon can begin swinging a bat and playing catch in his second week in Miami. He will be reevaluated after the stint, and if all is well, he'll rejoin the team to continue rehabbing. But even when Nixon is ready to play again, the Sox plan to advise him to avoid sitting for long periods of time. He believes the injury surfaced during his 12-hour drive from North Carolina to Florida for spring training.
"He'll be encouraged on the long coast-to-coast plane rides to get up and walk around a little bit, to try to minimize how much he's sitting for a long length of time," Morgan said. "I think that will be a lifelong recommendation for anybody with a spine problem."
The good news for the Sox was Kim's progress in coming back from inflammation behind his right shoulder. He played catch yesterday at a distance of 150 feet.
"He is getting a hunger to get on the mound," Morgan said. "We're not ready to do that, but that's a very good sign."
Morgan said Kim could throw in the bullpen once or twice this week. He indicated the righthander remains on track to return to action in mid to late April.