Julio Lugo is entering his 10th year in Major League Baseball. He’s in the third year of a four-year, $36 million contract with the Red Sox but has struggled since coming to Boston. After hitting .237 in 2007 with the Sox, Lugo battled through injuries that ultimately knocked him to the sidelines for good last season on July 12. His batting average for 2008 was .268 with just one home run in 261 at-bats.
Now, Lugo, 33, is healthy and determined to reclaim his position as an every-day big-league shortstop. We spoke about his condition, the competition for his job, and what it will take for him to return to the form that led him to a .308 batting average with Tampa Bay in 2006 (although he struggled after being traded to the Dodgers late that season).
TC: You look a little bigger this spring. Have you added weight in the off-season?
Lugo: I worked out a little more. I added 10 pounds. At the end of last season, I was this same size. When I went home, I was able to work out and get more rest even though I didnít want that rest.
TC: Jed Lowrie played well in your absence last year. Thereís been talk about a battle for the shortstop position this year. Are you the starting shortstop on this team?
Lugo: Thatís the way I look at it. Thatís the way Iím always going to see it no matter what happens. I didnít play last year for a period of time, and he came in and played well. People are going to forget about you. Thatís human nature. You know what? Now Iím here, and people are going to see me working, and people are going to remember me. Thatís why I get paid a lot of money. You get paid this much money for a reason. You donít get paid that money just to be here or to be on the bench.
TC: Youíve been asked a lot about the competition with Jed Lowrie. Is that competition a good thing?
Lugo: Every year thereís competition. Every day you come to the field thereís competition. Itís not just one player, itís the whole team. There are a lot of guys in the minor leagues trying to take your job. Itís not only this team, itís not only Jed. Itís a bunch of guys that want to be a major league shortstop.
TC: You hit .308 in 2006 with Tampa Bay, but we havenít seen those kind of numbers from you with the Red Sox. Will Sox fans get to see that from you this year?
Lugo: Of course. I havenít been able to put together a full season in a Red Sox uniform unfortunately, but this year is a new year for me and Iím going to have a fresh start from head to toe. Iím ready to do that, Iím ready to step up and play.
TC: How is the relationship between you and Lowrie?
Lugo: Thereís nothing bad between us. I understand heís a young guy coming up and we play the same position. Iím just not ready to give it up right now. This is my home, and I donít plan on going anywhere. I donít have any grudge against him. Youíve got to understand that everybody wants to play. Itís not only him. Thereís a bunch of kids in the minor leagues who want to try to take your job, too. Youíve got to get ready and do what you can do. Play your best every day.
TC: You were that guy once.
Lugo: Oh, yeah, and I remember it was our new first base coach, Tim Bogar. When I came up, he was the shortstop in Houston, and he helped me a lot. He was a little older than me then [laughs].
TC: How much was he able to help you as a new kid in the game?
Lugo: A lot. Heís one of those type of guys that doesnít mind helping you, to teach you something. Some guys, they feel threatened. They donít want to help you, they donít want to work out with you. This guy, he taught me that it was easier to catch the ball at certain angles. The big leagues are different, you canít lay back for balls as much as in the minor leagues, and he taught me that. Those little things are important. Thatís the way I play. Last year I had some problems with Luis [Alicea] because he wanted to change the whole way I play. I felt uncomfortable. It was another type of Julio Lugo, trying things Iíd never done. Itís difficult. Iíve been playing baseball for 20-something [years]. Seeing Bogar here, I was so much happier because he knows my way of playing, my style.
TC: Do you see yourself as that veteran now, helping out younger players like Lowrie?
Lugo: Of course. Itís something you do, itís just being a human being. Not only him, but anybody. Anybody who needs help, in or outside of baseball. For me, itís natural to do that.
TC: The people who knew you in Tampa always said your enthusiasm and love of the game were contagious. How tough has it been to be that guy when youíre struggling and hurt?
Lugo: When youíre battling injuries, thereís nothing you can do because you canít run around. You canít do anything. I love to play, and if Iím not playing Iím not going to be happy. Sometimes, when youíre not playing as well as you know you can, youíre not enjoying anything. You know you can hit. Thatís something Iíve always done. I could hit. I could field. I could steal bases. When youíre not doing the things you know you can do, youíre not going to be enjoying it.
TC: Does that make being back on the field this spring that much more enjoyable for you?
Lugo: Oh, yeah. Iím going to put it together this year.
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.