Kevin Youkilis' teammates came to his defense Monday after Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine questioned his commitment to the game and then apologized to his third baseman.
During an interview aired Sunday night on WHDH-TV, Valentine said he didn't think Youkilis was "as physically or emotionally into the game."
That drew a sharp response from Dustin Pedroia before Monday's 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I know he plays as hard as anybody I've ever seen in my life. I have his back and his teammates have his back," the second baseman said.
After the game, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez also supported his teammate.
"All you can do is tell Youk we love him. All it says is we have each others' backs," he said. "We're pulling for each other on the field and in the clubhouse. We've got a strong bond."
On Monday morning, Valentine said he apologized when Youkilis came into his office and asked for an explanation.
"I don't know if he accepted my apology," Valentine said. "It was sincere."
Youkilis had a poor spring training and is batting .200 (6 for 30), but Valentine said his comments weren't aimed at motivating him. After a 2-for-20 start, he was 4 for 10 in the first three games against the Tampa Bay Rays. He missed Monday's series finale because of a minor groin injury.
"I'm more confused than anything," Youkilis said before the game. "Everybody knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can."
If Valentine's intent was to have Youkilis' teammates rally around him, it may have worked.
"I really don't know what Bobby's trying to do, but that's not the way we go about our stuff around here," Pedroia said. "He'll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk."
Asked if Valentine was trying to motivate Youkilis, Pedroia said, "maybe that works in Japan" — where Valentine used to manage.
The manager said after the game that he spoke to Pedroia and "he's cool. He says he gets it."
Valentine took over on Dec. 1 for the more laid-back Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to two World Series championships in eight seasons.
Valentine said that in the interview he was just answering a question about how Youkilis may be feeling during early season struggles.
"I don't think he's as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," he said in the interview before Boston's 13-5 win on Sunday. "But (on Saturday) it seemed, you know, he's seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he'll move on from there."
On Monday, Valentine said, "I should have been more specific. Physical is about your swing, emotional is about not being happy when he doesn't hit a ball off the wall."
Youkilis hit a career-low .258 last season, when he was limited to 112 games by several injuries. Going into this season, his ninth with the Red Sox, he was batting .289 with 129 homers and 550 RBIs.
He said he talked Monday with Valentine about the manager's comments but gave no details. Youkilis said he doesn't think his passionate approach to the game has changed.
"I go out and just play the game. It doesn't matter one way or another. There's things that happened over the years with a lot of different things in baseball," he said. "For me it's not an issue."
Valentine said he doesn't want Youkilis to think "I was jabbing at him."
"I'd be surprised if Kevin didn't know I was totally behind him," he said. "We're big boys. I think he'll get it. If not, I'll talk to him a lot more."