BOSTON — When he met with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Terry Francona wouldn’t admit to having decided on a starting shortstop for Friday. He would admit only to having decided on a starting shortstop for Wednesday — a game that was postponed — and he admitted to that only because the lineup card had been posted in the clubhouse.
But the lineup card for Wednesday did list the name of Jed Lowrie for the second day running, this time at shortstop in place of Marco Scutaro. If Francona was going to start Lowrie — who hits better from the right side of the plate — against Tampa Bay righty James Shields, it’s hard to believe Lowrie isn’t going to start seeing more at-bats going forward.
“Jed’s hitting about .480,” Francona said, his voice matter-of-fact. “We don’t have a lot of guys hitting .480.”
Actually, after doubling twice against Tampa Bay’s David Price on Tuesday night, Lowrie is hitting .438 with an on-base percentage of .500. But the point still holds.
In a lineup that has shown no sign of breaking out of its April malaise, Lowrie has been one of the few bright spots. Lowrie and Dustin Pedroia are the only hitters in the lineup hitting better than .296. Lowrie, Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis have the only on-base percentages better than .400. Lowrie had more extra-base hits on Tuesday than Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Marco Scutaro have all season.
“The results are there,” Lowrie said. “That’s always nice. But I’m really, really happy with the way that I’m working right now and my approach. I’ve always believed that if I keep that approach, the results will be there. They’re there right now.”
Francona said in no uncertain terms during spring training that Scutaro would be his shortstop. Nothing Lowrie could have done during spring training would have changed his mind.
On a team inundated with injuries last year, Scutaro played through various shoulder and elbow maladies all the way until the end of the season. A dip in his numbers — his on-base percentage tumbled by 46 points from the previous season — wasn’t just forgiven. It was expected.
“If I was a player and went through what Scutaro did and then had to come to camp and base my playing time on 40 at-bats, I wouldn’t want to play for a guy like me,” Francona said early in spring training. “I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”
Neither Lowrie nor Scutaro has 40 at-bats thus far during the regular season. But the Lowrie-Scutaro debate goes far deeper than 40 at-bats — be they in March or in April or in September.
Scutaro plied his trade as a utility infielder for the first six years of his career, only once playing more than 120 games before his 32nd birthday. He hit a respectable .261 with a .325 on-base percentage in close to 2,500 plate appearances in that span. He proved himself to be a perfectly capable major-league shortstop — and then he broke out in 2009, posting a .379 on-base percentage and slugging .400 for the first time in his career.
When his numbers took a step back in his first season with the Red Sox, it looked far more like a veteran regressing to his typical career numbers than a trend that could be expected to continue.
Lowrie, on the other hand, was drafted in the first round after having hit .317 with a .416 on-base percentage and .594 slugging percentage in his final season at Stanford. He then got on base at a .429 clip in more than 200 plate appearances at Single-A Lowell in his professional debut in 2005, a .352 clip at Single-A Wilmington in 2006, and a .393 clip the following year in more than 400 plate appearances at Double-A Portland in 2007. He then hit .300 with a .356 on-base percentage and .506 slugging percentage when he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket for the first time.
In other words, until he hurt his wrist, Lowrie hit at every level at which he’s played. His numbers at the plate have looked far more like those of Dustin Pedroia than anyone would expect.
And after he recovered from mononucleosis in spring of last year, Lowrie posted a .381 on-base percentage and .526 slugging percentage in August and September. If he’d kept up the same pace for 600 plate appearances, he’d have hit 27 home runs and 42 doubles.
Facing Price on Tuesday night after having come to the plate just six times since Wednesday of last week wasn’t exactly the easiest task.
“This is the major leagues,” he said. “You’re going to face good pitchers every night, whether it’s a guy throwing 97 (mph) or a guy throwing four quality pitches off-speed. Guys here know how to get people out. Whether you’re facing a David Price or someone else, you’re going to face a major-leaguer every night.”
But the two doubles he hit off Price were impressive.
“When he’s swinging like this, you probably look for ways to get him in there,” Francona conceded late Tuesday night.
Less than 24 hours later, Lowrie was right back in the Red Sox lineup. He might well be in the lineup against Toronto lefty Brett Cecil on Friday. He won’t hit .480 — or even .380 — all season long. But he’s making a compelling argument to be in the lineup every day nonetheless.
Friday: Brett Cecil (lefty)
Saturday:Jo-Jo Reyes (lefty)
Sunday:Jesse Litsch (traditional righty)
Monday:Ricky Romero (lefty)
Wednesday: Brett Anderson (lefty)
Thursday:Gio Gonzalez (lefty)