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Lamenting the plight of Mike Lowell

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  June 11, 2010 08:37 AM

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In a very bizarre manner, maybe it was a good thing that Kevin Youkilis had to be pulled from the lineup. At least now we now that Mike Lowell indeed remains on the 25-man roster of your beloved Boston Red Sox.

To his credit, Lowell said nothing following the Red Sox’ ugly 9-8 loss to the Cleveland Indians last night. For Lowell, any failure to do so only would have compounded what has become a most unusual situation. Leading off the top of the ninth inning against Indians closer Kerry Wood, Lowell stepped into the batter’s box for just his eighth plate appearance since May 22. Wood's first two pitches to him were fastballs registering in the mid 90s (called strike, foul ball), putting Lowell on his heels with an 0-2 count. Wood then threw a breaking ball off the outside edge that Lowell defensively waved at, producing a soft bounder back to the pitcher for an easy out.

Lowell subsequently played the bottom of the inning at first base as the Indians rallied for an improbable win, leaving us all to wonder when we will see him on the field again.

Which brings us to this:

At this stage, wouldn’t the Red Sox be far better off to concede to Lowell’s wishes and grant the player his release? What good is it to carry a player on the roster – any player – if the team has virtually no intention of using him?

Let’s examine the facts here. Lowell hasn’t appeared in consecutive games since May 21-22, affairs played in Philadelphia under National League rules. During that span, David Ortiz has gone 2 for 15 against lefthanded pitching and Jacoby Ellsbury (who has played in nine games this year) has had more plate appearances than Lowell has. Over the last 19 days, against lefthanded pitching, the Red Sox have allowed Tim Wakefield has to bat as many times (once) as they have Lowell.

The writing isn’t merely on the wall here, folks. It’s on the ceilings and floors, and it is written in the sky. Soon, Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor may even cut it into the lawn at Fenway Park.

In the minds of the Red Sox, Mike Lowell does not have a place here.

Lowell expressed this nearly a month ago, of course, which was really his only mistake in this, particularly after Jonathan Papelbon had just blown a game at Yankee Stadium. At a moment like that, no player is ever going to win a personal fight. The Red Sox promptly turned things around and began playing better baseball – they have not lost a series since – and Lowell was put into a position where he could not speak even if he wanted to.

But now, as it has become clearer and clearer that Lowell is the 26th man on the Boston roster, we must wonder: why is he still here? Over the last few weeks, the Sox effectively have been playing with 24 players. By keeping Lowell here and by failing to utilize him, the Sox are only compounding a problem that has been worsening for the better part of the last three years. After reluctantly re-signing Lowell following the 2007 World Series, the Sox have spent the large majority of time since trying to dispose of him, largely through fruitless (or reneged upon) trade talks.

Over the winter, the Sox had a deal in place with the Texas Rangers in which Boston would have acquired catcher Max Ramirez (.245 average, .733 OPS) while eating about 75 percent (or $9 million) of Lowell’s $12 million salary, but the Rangers backed out of the deal when they learned Lowell needed thumb surgery.

Earlier this season, Sox manager Terry Francona all but admitted that it might be hard to find playing time for Lowell. When Ortiz began the year in a spin, Lowell started playing against lefthanded pitching. Then Ortiz got hot and Lowell got shelved again. Now Ortiz is struggling again – he is 3 for 33 in June and 1 for 27 in his last eight games – and the Sox clearly have no intention of inserting Lowell back into the mix. That is certainly the right of Red Sox decision-makers Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, who have chosen to stand by Ortiz for any number of reasons.

Maybe they feel Ortiz needs to play everyday to be productive against righties. Maybe they are trying to force Lowell’s hand in negotiating some type of buyout a la Andruw Jones or Bobby Bonilla. Maybe they want to steer clear of any type of controversy at the designated hitter position, something that might only introduce more tension into a situation already possessing enough.

Maybe the Red Sox feel that they ultimately can get something for Lowell as the financial commitment to him dwindles – he now has roughly $7.5 million remaining in salary - be it from the Los Angeles Angels or anyone else.

Meanwhile, the Sox are plodding along with what amounts to a 24-man roster, something that really has not hurt them yet thanks to a creampuff schedule. But starting tonight with a series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, the competition will begin to intensify again. Depending on Youkilis’s status, there is every chance Lowell will be in the lineup. There is also every chance that Lowell might begin playing more when the Sox play upcoming interleague road games, when there will be the inevitable need for double-switches and roster depth.

And there is seemingly an even better chance that Lowell will just vanish to the end of the bench again, an unwanted man in an undesirable position.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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