THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

With wrist healthy, Lowrie quite handy

He gets around Red Sox infield

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / March 5, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jed Lowrie walked into the doctor's office, one day after last season's playoffs ended and one day away from the break he deserved. He had quickly scheduled a cross-country golfing trip with his college roommate, and he couldn't wait to throw his clubs - Titleist woods and hybrids, Nike blade irons - in a car and go.

One chore remained. He needed an arthrogram and an MRI on his left wrist. He had played in pain since May, when he still played for Pawtucket, the symptoms worsening as the season wore on. Still, he figured it was a sprain, nothing that rest wouldn't heal, and nothing that golf would hurt.

The results returned later in the evening: a small fracture. He called his buddy and canceled the trip. "That," he said, "was the worst part."

The Red Sox demanded a lot of Lowrie after he joined the team to stay in mid-July. He played in 52 of the team's 53 September and October games, toggling between third base and shortstop, often in the same game. Sometimes, he played second base. He did it without complaint, even as his injury - which did not become public un til after the season - led to a late-season slump.

Lowrie returned this spring fighting for the starting shortstop position. He has a healthy wrist, 5 more pounds of muscle, and a new level of comfort that comes with knowing he has earned a place on the team.

"I'm a lot more comfortable with the surroundings and the guys and the routine that everybody's got," Lowrie said. "But you're going into the season with a lot of unknowns every year. You're kind of on that edge, no matter how comfortable."

This spring, that edge derives from his competition with Julio Lugo, whose quadriceps injury last season enabled Lowrie to emerge. Lowrie's desire to win the position is evident - "he wants to be the guy," center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury said - but Lowrie has taken a measured approach.

"The way I look at it is we're still teammates," Lowrie said. "We're amicable. It's not like we're out there, don't talk, giving each other bad looks. It's a competition that's going to make this team better. It's not a personal battle."

Lowrie's versatility may actually cost him the starting position. Lowrie has proved he can also play third and second; Lugo has not. It may benefit the Sox most, for now, to keep Lowrie without a regular spot in order to take advantage of his flexibility.

Lowrie comes by it naturally. He played only shortstop at Stanford and through the minors. But last year he showed up at the park knowing he'd be in the lineup, just not knowing where. "That's what I look for," Lowrie said. "I'm always looking for a new challenge."

Lowrie embraced the role. This spring, he's even taken a few ground balls at first base. "I mean, why not? Lowrie said. "It's just another position." Some players resist being moved around the field because of the potential implication: They're not good enough to hold a starting position.

"It's an interesting term, utility guy," Lowrie said. "I don't think anyone wants to get branded with that term. I think it's a term that, a guy that can come off the bench and be able to play anywhere. I see myself as an everyday player and an everyday shortstop. But if that's the role this team sees me in right now, that's OK. In the long run, I see myself as an everyday shortstop."

Lowrie finished the 2008 regular season in an 8-for-51 (.157) slump, raising doubts about his offensive ability. But he remained hush about his wrist injury, not wanting opposing pitchers to take advantage of his weakness.

The difference showed in his splits - Lowrie hit .338 with a .525 slugging percentage from the right side; lefthanded, the numbers dropped to .222 and .344 - but he didn't worry that no one knew his wrist ached. He let criticism bounce off him. "I know who I am as a player," Lowrie said.

When the Sox tested Lowrie at the end of last season, his left wrist possessed 55 percent of the strength of his right wrist. When he had the same test done at the outset of spring training, it had improved to 90 percent.

"Comparing it to the end of the season to now, it's an indescribable difference," Lowrie said. "It affected me quite a bit. Toward the end of the year, there was just nothing I could do to keep it strong. It obviously wasn't healthy."

Lowrie feels healthy now, his wrist healed, his body in shape. He trained for three weeks this winter with Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona, then moved to Tampa to work out with a personal trainer. He prepared for his role this season, even if it remains unknown.

"He has a great mentality," Ellsbury said. "He just knows what it's going to take."

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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