Lowrie plays his way in
OAKLAND, Calif. — We don’t expect Terry Francona to make any announcements. This is not Bill Belichick anointing Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe in the autumn of 2001. But you have to figure that Jed Lowrie is the Red Sox starting shortstop for the foreseeable future.
Marco Scutaro is a nice guy. He earned loyalty points when he played hurt last year. But he is also a 35-year-old stopgap infielder, a career .267 hitter, playing with his sixth major league organization. He was brought to Boston to keep the seat warm for flossy Jose Iglesias, the 21-year-old phenom getting ready at Pawtucket. But aren’t the Sox obligated to keep Lowrie in the lineup until the Stanford whiz at least cools off a little?
On a $160 million payroll team with 15 All-Stars, Lowrie is the 27-year-old utility guy who makes only $450,000 and spent the spring trying to get people to take him seriously. Like any good player, he thinks of himself as a starter, but that wasn’t happening on a team with every position locked up before the first game of the Grapefruit League season.
There was no auditioning at shortstop when the Sox gathered in Fort Myers, Fla. Francona is beholden to Scutaro — who took one for the team last year, playing hurt, then moving to second base when he could barely throw.
But when the Sox started 2-10 and Scutaro was hitting .188, Francona made the switch. Lowrie responded by going 9 for 15 with two homers in the three-game winning streak against the Jays. He finished up the homestand by going 4 for 5 with a home run in the Marathon Monday rout of Toronto, and there was no taking him out of the lineup when the Sox arrived at the Al Davis Theater last night.
Francona had Lowrie in the leadoff spot and Lowrie went 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts in the Sox’ 5-0 loss to Brett Anderson and the Athletics. Joltin’ Jed saw the end of his seven-game hitting streak.
“I’m seeing the ball really well,’’ Lowrie said yesterday afternoon. “I trust my hands. What’s been happening is a whole combination of things. Preparing great. Seeing the ball well. Working my hands well.’’
The switch-hitting Lowrie is a better hitter from the right side, which means he should be in there again this afternoon against lefthander Gio Gonzalez. But don’t be surprised if Lowrie shows up as designated hitter or third baseman. Francona doesn’t like to bury a veteran. He can’t sit Lowrie while the kid is on fire, but he’s not going to let Scutaro rot on the pine. Wally Pipp would have gotten his job back if Francona managed the 1925 Yankees.
The situation is a tad awkward. No one honors veterans more than Francona (Mike Timlin could have gotten the ball for an inning if he showed up at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum last night), so Scutaro is still officially the “starter.’’
But what if Lowrie doesn’t cool off? Could the Sox be facing another “What Would We Do With Willie McGee?’’ dilemma? Iglesias is the franchise’s shortstop-in-waiting. Does that make Lowrie trade bait?
We didn’t see this coming. Lowrie was drafted by the Sox in 2005 and his career was jeopardized by left wrist surgery in the summer of 2009. When he tried to come back, he wasn’t right. Then in 2010, he contracted mononucleosis, which put him on the shelf for the first 94 games of the season. By the time Lowrie got back, everybody else was hurt. He made the most of his opportunity, hitting .287 with nine homers and an OPS of .907 in 55 games.
Now he wants to be the starter, and his locker in Oakland is next to Scutaro’s.
“I have a lot of respect for him,’’ said Lowrie. “We’re both just playing ball.’’
“Marco’s a smart kid,’’ said Francona. “He knows the situation.’’
Lowrie is never going to be a Gold Glove shortstop. His best position is probably second base, but the Sox are set there with Dustin Pedroia. Lowrie and Pedroia played against one another in the Pac-10 when Lowrie was a second baseman for Stanford and Pedroia a shortstop for Arizona State.
“I like the middle infield better than first or third,’’ said Lowrie. “But second or short, it doesn’t really matter. I’m just as comfortable with both.’’
He has yet to demonstrate that he can stay healthy for a full big league season. And Lowrie’s left wrist is forever altered.
“It will never be the same,’’ he said. “I had a bone taken out. It took a lot longer to heal than I expected it to, but it feels great.’’
He left a bundle of tickets for family and friends last night. Oakland is a 10-hour drive from his Salem, Ore., home. Palo Alto is less than an hour away.
Lefthander Anderson fanned Lowrie twice and got him to fly to left in the third. Craig Breslow came on in the ninth and got Lowrie on a grounder to short.
Bet you’ll see Wally Pipp Scutaro at short today.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.