Lowrie has something to prove
Yesterday came abruptly for Jed Lowrie, “like hitting a brick wall,’’ he said. He figured there would be a game to play, maybe a flight back to California. He can instead look forward, to this offseason and beyond, and perhaps that is the best thing he could ask for - a chance to leave behind 2009.
After a trying season, Lowrie faces a potentially pivotal offseason. The Red Sox still believe he will be a consistent force in their lineup. But they cannot trust the shortstop position to a player who began the year as the starter and took 68 at-bats all season. He still must prove himself.
“It’s on him,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said. “He’s got to get himself healthy and make an impact. We can’t stake our season on the hope that he’ll be healthy. We have to have other options.’’
In spring training, Lowrie arrived ready to compete with Julio Lugo. He crushed the ball and won the job when Lugo was injured. In the final days before the Sox broke camp, Lowrie felt a twinge in his left wrist. An offseason of rest, he thought, had helped alleviate the lingering pain and discomfort he had felt since May 2008.
He tried to play through it. He couldn’t. Lowrie went on the disabled list, and on April 21, he underwent surgery in Arizona. Taking a pitch on the knee during a rehab assignment slowed his comeback. When he finally made it back, a check swing hurt his wrist and sent him back to the disabled list.
Lowrie’s career numbers - a .235 batting average, .313 on-base percentage, and .372 slugging percentage in 113 games - stand as an unfair assessment of his ability. He has played hurt for the duration of his short major league career.
When, though, does the inability to overcome injury shift from misfortune to a flaw? Epstein is understanding, but his patience has limits. With subtlety, Epstein issued Lowrie a challenge.
“We have not seen the type of player he can be yet at the big league level, because he’s been hurt the entire time,’’ Epstein said. “At some point, the player has to get healthy to be able to show what he can do and be able to help the organization.
“I don’t think we can hand a job to him, because he hasn’t proved his health yet at this point.
“At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here this time next year - hopefully soaked in champagne and not having one of these postmortems - but looking back and saying, ‘Wow, he really got healthy and proved himself and ended up winning that job or taking that job, playing his way into a meaningful role.’ So, now we’ll see.’’
Alex Gonzalez, who claimed the shortstop job as soon as he arrived in a trade in mid-August, may return. His contract includes a mutual option for $6 million, and he said Sunday he would like to come back if he and the Sox come to an agreement on the option and his projected playing time.
The Sox would like to bring back Nick Green to provide depth. Green enjoyed his time in Boston and would like to return, but if he can find a place where a major league spot is guaranteed - an uncertainty in Boston - he would prefer to be there.
The spot still could be Lowrie’s. He plans on getting his wrist “back to neutral.’’ He plans on visiting with team medical director Thomas Gill, and Dr. Donald Sheridan, the specialist who performed his surgery. He wants more than anything to be healthy, to finally show what kind of player he really is.
“Yeah, I guess the opportunity to do that is all I’m asking for,’’ Lowrie said. “I really feel like I’ve only been healthy for a month that I’ve been up here. I’m just looking for the opportunity to show what I can do.’’
Lowrie will take some time to unwind, visiting his girlfriend in Toronto and spending the holidays at home in Oregon. He will also train in Arizona.
His planned travel pales in comparison to his season, which was “pretty much on a reunion tour of the minor league days,’’ he said. Lowrie played for four teams in 2009, three more than he should have.
“It’s been obviously a frustrating year,’’ Lowrie said. “Unexpectedly, the wrist didn’t respond to really anything we did this year.
“And so, you know, you just move forward. Let it rest and find the next steps and talk to the doctors and find out what’s going on and move on.
“It was a long year for me. I’m excited for the offseason and what’s ahead.’’
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.