Lowrie looking ahead
Strong finish builds confidence for 2011
Among the players who benefited from the Red Sox’ string of injuries during the season, perhaps the most important — at least to the team’s future — was Jed Lowrie. After two seasons in which the infielder suffered various ailments (left wrist injury, mononucleosis), the second half of this season was a chance for him to show off his offensive skills and his ability to play shortstop on a regular basis.
And the results might have a significant impact on 2011.
Marco Scutaro, signed through next season, struggled with a rotator cuff injury this season, and was forced to move from shortstop to second base in the last six weeks. He is expected to make a full recovery, but he’s also likely to be competing for his job with Lowrie in spring training.
“He had a real uncertain first half of the season with his health, not only battling the wrist thing that’s lingered for a couple of years, but the mono,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said Sunday. “To look at where he was back in May and then where he is now, feeling good about himself and having everyone feel good about him is a good accomplishment. He was a very good, very consistent player for the second half of the season who’s opened a lot of eyes and is fulfilling the promise that he’s had for a long time.’’
Lowrie’s value comes in his versatility and his bat, especially as a switch-hitter. In 55 games this season, Lowrie batted .287 and slugged .526. He hit nine home runs, including two on the final day, and had 24 RBIs. After returning to the team July 21, Lowrie played almost every day down the stretch and got hot at the end with a .364 average, five homers, and 11 RBIs over his final 16 games.
“He had a really, really good second half of the season,’’ Epstein said. “It was impressive what he was able to do, the numbers he was able to put up. But beyond the numbers, he looked like a really good hitter. He commanded the strike zone well, he swung with authority, especially from the right side and lately from the left side as well.
“He sees the ball extremely well. He probably sees the ball out of the hand as well as the guys like [Kevin] Youkilis and [Dustin] Pedroia, who make their living that way. Especially for a guy that can play the middle infield, those are some rare offensive skills to find. He’s a guy who can carve a real career for himself as an above-average offensive player in the infield.’’
While manager Terry Francona said recently that third base might be Lowrie’s best position, it’s unlikely he has enough power for the Sox to install him as the starter.
“I’m really happy with the way I played this year and the way that my body responded and get ready for next year and be ready to go,’’ Lowrie said. “I’m not trying to prove [anything] to them, I’m trying to go out there and show what I can do. I know what I’m capable of and I’m going to continue to do that.’’
“I think that happens any year you have a lot of injuries,’’ Epstein said. “The medical staff, they’re like umpires: Nobody notices them or talks about them until there’s a year where there’s a perception things go wrong, then it’s sort of fair game to pile on. I think we have really good personnel. And I think we provide quality care for our players.
“Beyond that, there’s the subtleties of the medical operation, communication, making sure everybody is on the same page, and processing the information. That can be tough in a year where there are a lot of injuries. Ultimately I take responsibility for that. That falls within baseball operations and I have to make sure the systems we have in place are the best they possibly can be and engender trust in the players and everyone else involved in the process.’’
Epstein added that the organization already has made some adjustments to those processes, and said the Sox will continue to look at them in the offseason.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.