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Lugo may have torn meniscus

Sox shortstop returning to Boston, possibly for arthroscopy

By Amalie Benjamin and Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / March 15, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - With a giant pack of ice on his right knee, Julio Lugo limped around the clubhouse at City of Palms Park yesterday. Without it, the shortstop stood on a chair and bounced along to some music blasting out of speakers in David Ortiz's locker. He was surprisingly upbeat for a player who might have seen the end of his bid to earn the starting shortstop spot to begin the season.

After enduring knee pain for nearly a week - since rounding second in a game against the Rays last Sunday, he said - Lugo had an MRI on his right knee after coming out of Friday night's game against the Yankees. And the news did not appear good yesterday.

The early word from manager Terry Francona was that Lugo might have a meniscus tear. According to a team source, Lugo will return to Boston tomorrow and may need arthroscopic surgery, which could be performed as early as Tuesday; such a procedure, said the source, would sideline Lugo for a month.

"I'm worried," Lugo said shortly after 8 a.m. "Every time you have something hurt you're worried, because I know I'm the type when something bothers me, when I say something, I'm in pain. Otherwise I'm not going to complain [about] pain. If you see me coming out, I'm hurting."

He later added, "It is disappointing. But at the same time, things happen for a reason. God works his magic. That's the only way I see it. Something happens, you can't explain why it happens, but it happens. I've been blessed in my life, all the good things I got."

Upon his arrival in Fort Lauderdale for yesterday's game against the Orioles, Francona said he had spoken to team physician Thomas Gill and general manager Theo Epstein about the MRI, which Gill already had studied. The Sox also had the MRI results examined by Dr. Bill Palmer at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"I'm not sure [Gill] saw something that looked like a tear, but with the experience he has when he puts his hands on the knee, there is something in there," Francona said. "Rather than rush into something, we'll send it up to Bill, that's his specialty, and we'll go from there."

The Red Sox have a history with meniscus tears, from the one Trot Nixon played with for the entire 2005 season to the one that cost Jason Varitek more than a month in 2006 to the one David Ortiz suffered in June of 2006, then played with for the next season and a half until he had arthroscopic surgery in November of 2007.

Even though Lugo said the knee had been hurting for a week, he had not gotten treatment.

He went out for the first inning to play shortstop Friday, then felt enough pain to signal to the bench that he needed to be removed because, as he said, "I couldn't move." Third baseman Mike Lowell helped him out by starting a double play to end the inning, after which Lugo was taken for the MRI.

Lugo said he has no trouble walking but gets sharp pain, especially on the inside part of the knee, when he runs.

The team wasn't exactly sure how the original injury occurred, according to Francona.

"That's a little murkier," he said. "He said it's been bothering him for 10 days to two weeks, but the last couple of days it started grabbing at him. I said something to him before the game, 'Hey, how is your knee, OK?' He said, 'Yeah, a little sore.' Then he got out there in the first inning and he made a gesture like, 'I gotta come out.' "

The injury is about the worst scenario Lugo could have imagined. After being out since last July 11 with a left quadriceps injury, Lugo had spent his rehab time bulking up to about 188 pounds (from 175), and he had come into camp ready to work even harder on his offense and defense while in competition with Jed Lowrie.

Lugo had been lauded by the coaching staff about his dedication and results this spring; he is batting .450 with two doubles and no errors.

"I'm not worried about that [competition]," Lugo said. "I'm worried about myself right now. If I can play, then I'm the shortstop. If I'm healthy, it's different."

Lowrie said, "I'm just going to stay the same. I never want to see anyone get hurt, whether I'm in competition with him or not."

Not only had Lugo been spending extra time taking ground balls with first base coach Tim Bogar, but he had taken to heart advice from hitting coach Dave Magadan about standing more upright at the plate. That had shown in offense the team hasn't seen from him in the two years since Lugo signed a four-year, $36 million free agent contract.

"I think he looks good at the plate right now," said Joe Maddon, Lugo's former manager in Tampa Bay, last Sunday after the teams played. "Actually I thought he's even been a little more disciplined in regard to laying off bad [pitches], expanding his strike zone.

"I think he's a very talented offensive player."

But Lugo hasn't shown that in his two years in Boston, batting .247, with an on-base percentage of .314, a slugging percentage of .343, and just nine home runs in 831 at bats. He also has 35 errors in 226 games the past two seasons.

In addition to Lowrie, who likely will take over as the starting shortstop, the injury could temporarily open up a spot for a utility infielder.

That slot - if there is one - could go to Nick Green, who can play second base, shortstop, and third base, and who has torn up pitching this spring.

Francona recently expressed regret that there might not be a place for Green, despite his impressive play. Not that he was looking for this scenario.

"Making decisions is one thing," Francona said. "You don't want to ever see anyone get hurt. That's not what we're looking for. We go slow [in spring training] because we don't want to lose people. So we'll hope for the best. We'll see. That's as clear as I can be on it."

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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