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Sunday Baseball notes

Lowrie may be worth a longer look at short

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / January 9, 2011

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Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie?

It may be the only question on this Red Sox team.

Or maybe it isn’t a question at all. Maybe it’s a slam dunk that the veteran Scutaro returns as the starting shortstop while Lowrie remains the super-utility guy who will see time at short to spell Scutaro and at third when Kevin Youkilis either gets a day off or goes to DH when there’s a tough lefthanded pitcher that sends David Ortiz to the bench.

Manager Terry Francona has to be mindful that Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Youkilis, and Scutaro are all coming off injuries and/or surgeries, so he probably will need to give them days off early in the season.

Is Lowrie a full-time shortstop? We don’t know.

Is Lowrie a full-time third baseman? That’s where Theo Epstein’s eyes seem to light up. We know there’s no chance he’ll play second, barring another injury to Pedroia, and there’s little chance he sees significant time at third as long as Youkilis is there. But the Bill Mueller comparisons are out there.

Where the comparison suffers is in durability. Lowrie’s career has started slowly because of injuries and illness. He chose surgery for a nondisplaced fracture of his left wrist after five opinions advised against it, and the road back has been tough. The mononucleosis he contracted last year sucked the energy out of him. It took time and patience for him to find his strength.

When he finally came back in late July, the player who had been so out of sight and out of mind for so long started to click. You started to think maybe Lowrie could be Mueller after all.

Scutaro deserves a badge of honor for playing through a painful shoulder injury (inflamed rotator cuff) that stemmed from a pinched nerve in his neck. He had a couple of cortisone shots and his shoulder atrophied, but Scutaro persevered.

Dealing with the injury and playing on natural surfaces (as opposed to 81 games on turf at Rogers Centre) took some getting used to.

Scutaro, who enters the final season of his two-year, $12.25 million deal, finished 2010 with a respectable .275 average, 11 homers, 56 RBIs, and 92 runs. By the end of the season, he was switched to second base to make the throws easier. He started his career as a utility player, and we wonder if that’s how he could end his Red Sox career.

Francona indicated that Scutaro, who did not have surgery, is feeling much better after an offseason of rest and should return stronger. His numbers may get better as a result, but now he may have Lowrie to compete with.

Not that Francona or Epstein is going to declare a competition here, and in fact Francona said Scutaro is his starting shortstop as of now. But you just wonder whether the best thing for the Sox might be going with the younger, rejuvenated switch hitter as the starter and the 35-year-old Scutaro as the utilityman.

“We as an organization view Jed as an everyday player,’’ Francona said. “With the injuries and the illnesses he’s been through and building himself up, that may not be on Opening Day. But we have a terrific situation with Jed, who can play first, second, short, and third. There aren’t too many players in the game who can do that.’’

Lowrie hit .287 with 9 homers and 24 RBIs in just 171 at-bats, with an impressive .907 OPS. He hit .338 righthanded, which is an important stat in a heavily lefthanded lineup. Lowrie doesn’t have great range at shortstop but he is sure-handed.

Lowrie basically has this year to get the shortstop job because the Sox don’t feel the slick-fielding Jose Iglesias is far away.

Lowrie, who turns 27 April 17, also may have trade value.

Iglesias could spend part or all of the year at Pawtucket, but once he establishes himself as a hitter, he’ll be on a fast track to the majors.

When that happens, the instability at the position in Boston may finally end. Since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in ’04, the Sox have used Orlando Cabrera, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, Nick Green, and Alex Gonzalez (twice) there.

“Lowrie,’’ said a veteran scout, “could be a very compelling player. The scouts like myself who watched him saw a guy who could be a pretty nice piece to your lineup.

“The only question anyone has is: Can he do it every day? And that’s probably the same dilemma the Red Sox have. Nice player, though.’’

SCHOENEWEIS STATES CASE
Lefty seeking an opportunity One more chance. That’s all Scott Schoeneweis wants.

It wasn’t just the tragedy of his wife being found dead at their suburban Phoenix home after an overdose of cocaine and lidocaine on May 20, 2009. For years he had dealt with her addiction.

Schoeneweis had tough seasons on the field in 2009 (1-2, 7.13 ERA for Arizona) and last year, when he went 1-0 with a 7.90 ERA in 15 appearances for the Red Sox.

“I have a hard time understanding how I’ve fallen so far off the map,’’ Schoeneweis said. “I don’t know too many people who could have done what I’ve done considering the circumstances. Seems as if I’m being penalized instead of applauded.

“It’s not sour grapes. My place is more important to be here raising the kids, but for me personally, I wasn’t quite done. My skills haven’t diminished.

“The last three or four years of my career were wrought with a tough situation off the field. In retrospect, I’m actually amazed I was able to perform at all.

“At the outset of the 2010 season, when I was in the role I was brought there to do, I performed. Somehow, somewhere I became a mop-up guy, which I had no problem being.

“However, I was not used 10-12 days, without throwing, then tried to go three innings. I was diligently working to help the team in any way I could to embrace that role. Then I got released.

“I absolutely loved my time in Boston, and for the first time in a long time, I was able to enjoy my job. Then it suddenly ended.

“I feel confident that if I had a full year in the big leagues last year, that over the course of the season, I would have returned to the level that I was prior to all the off-the-field mess I was in, none of which I really had any control over.

“Mentally and emotionally, I was in a better place than I’ve ever been in any previous time in my career.’’

Schoeneweis, 37, feels he can excel as a situational lefty now that his life has some order again.

“With that being said,’’ Schoeneweis said, “we are doing extremely well and we are very happy.’’

STATS ALL, FOLKS
Chuck full of numbers Always a treat to rummage through “The Maniacal One’’ Chuck Waseleski’s year-end statistical wrap on the Red Sox. Here are a few nuggets from 2010:

■The Sox lost 20 games in their opponent’s final at-bat. Only the Mariners in the American League lost more (24).

■The Sox were 5-13 in extra innings, the most losses in the major leagues. Only Oakland (4) and Seattle (3) won fewer extra-inning games in the American League.

■The Sox used 143 different starting lineups in 162 games, using no lineup more than five times. Only three lineups were used as many as four times.

■The Sox were 62-44 with Victor Martinez starting at catcher, 2-10 with Martinez starting at first base.

■The Sox lost 42 games in which they had a lead. Only Baltimore (43) lost more.

■No. 9 hitters batted .351 against Josh Beckett, .214 against all other Sox pitchers.

■Daisuke Matsuzaka’s ERA was 7.56 in the first inning, 3.00 from the second inning through the fourth, and 6.20 from the fifth inning on.

■ Sox starting center fielders hit .229 and starting left fielders hit .232. Boston’s starting pitchers hit .313.

■The Sox hit 98 home runs at Fenway Park and 113 on the road. The last time they hit more home runs at home than on the road was 1996. (In 2004, they hit 111 at home and 111 on the road.)

■ Sox pitchers had a 4.63 ERA against AL East opponents, 3.89 against other divisions.

Adrian Beltre hit .277 against AL East opponents, .353 against other divisions.

Bill Hall was tied for second on the team in home runs over the Green Monster (7, tied with Kevin Youkilis). Beltre hit 11.

Tim Wakefield allowed 20 hits off or over the Green Monster.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. Among Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero, there are 1,580 home runs and 4,887 RBIs out there in free agency; 2. Johnny Ricciardi was an Army veteran and former Red Sox farmhand beloved by a lot of people in the Worcester area. His son, J.P., adored him. “We lost a great man,’’ said J.P.; 3. The final season of J.D. Drew’s five-year, $70 million deal: success or failure?; 4. The White Sox could really use Rafael Soriano; 5. Never been a $20 million leadoff man, has there? Will Carl Crawford be the first?

Updates on nine 1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Red Sox — The day has come. Ellsbury (left) received news last week that he’s 100 percent recovered from his rib ailments. The latest MRI taken by Dr. Lewis Yocum gave Ellsbury the all-clear. He is currently working out at Athletes Performance in Arizona along with Ryan Kalish.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox — He is very excited about the progress he’s made in offseason workouts with Sox catching instructor Gary Tuck and with the recovery of his surgically repaired right thumb. “Thumb feels great,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “Can’t wait to get going.’’

3. Matt Garza, RHP, Rays — A terrific deal for the Rays, sending him to the Cubs for prospects. It not only allows them to make room for Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation, but makes a prospect-rich organization even deeper with outfielders Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer (the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year), top pitching prospect Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, and catcher Robinson Chirinos. Garza, who is only 27, won 15 games last season and in 2008 pitched a memorable Game 7 in the ALCS, holding the Red Sox to two hits in seven innings. The Rays also save Garza’s $6 million salary, which they can put toward a first baseman or outfielder (Johnny Damon, Scott Podsednik).

4. Curt Young, pitching coach, Red Sox — At the team’s rookie development program next week, he and Terry Francona will begin discussing some of the things Young would like to do with pitchers both in spring training and through the season. Francona indicated he is open to Young tweaking the way the staff had been run under John Farrell.

5. Scott Boras, agent — Nice winter. He got Jayson Werth seven years, $126 million. He got Adrian Beltre five years, $80 million (with an option that could make it $96 million). He got Carlos Pena, who hit less than .200, $10 million. None of them will live up to those contracts, in my opinion. “He’s awfully good,’’ said an AL executive. “You have to give him credit. He’s the best there is.’’

6. Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP, Boston — He told a Japanese sports website that he feels part of his problem the past two years was that his lower-body strength paled in comparison to his upper-body strength. In the future, Matsuzaka said, he needs to work “70 percent lower body, 20 percent upper body, and 10 percent shoulder. Up until now, it’s been 50/50. Last couple of years, I felt my upper body was getting ahead of my lower body. So now I need to start working on my lower body earlier on.’’ He said his body never felt in synch all last season.

7. Tony Reagins, general manager, Angels — Give the Angels brass credit for this: They didn’t cross their threshold for anyone. Yes, they needed Crawford, Beltre, and Soriano, but they wouldn’t go where they felt uncomfortable. Word is the Angels were willing to raise the ante on Beltre to about $75 million. Don’t forget, Boston’s ceiling was four years at $52 million. The Angels may or may not pay a price for that in the AL West. Though the Rangers signed Beltre, they have not improved their starting pitching, and the A’s have the pitching but may be short on offense.

8. Eric Chavez, 3B/1B/DH, free agent — The six-time Gold Glove third baseman wants to resume his career, and he’s getting serious looks from the Dodgers and at least two other teams. Chavez has been derailed by back and shoulder injuries since 2007, but he appears free of pain and may just be a missing piece for a team looking for help. The Dodgers have been seeking a lefthanded complement to Casey Blake, and Chavez might be the guy.

9. Grant Balfour, RHP, free agent — He is still out there, according to one scout, because his velocity has dipped over the past year, but “he’s developed good command of his secondary pitches. He can pitch in the AL East, he’s a competitor, and if you use him as a complementary piece, he’s worth pursuing for your bullpen.’’ Yankees, perhaps?

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Of the 11 players last season who hit at least .300, had 25 homers and 100 RBIs, only one struck out fewer times than Albert Pujols (76). That was Vladimir Guerrero, who fanned 60 times and is still looking for 2011 work.’’ Also, “After 14 seasons in the NL, new Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee is going to experience the AL for the first time. Against AL pitchers in interleague play, he hit .311 with 27 homers and 103 RBIs in 615 AB.’’ And, “For the Rangers, Michael Young has played 777 games at short, 407 games at second, 292 games at third, and has been a DH — his new position for 2011 — for 25 games and has hit .388 in that role.’’ . . . Guest list for the 72d Boston Baseball Writers Dinner Jan. 20 at the Westin Copley Place: Larry Lucchino, Clay Buchholz, Kalish, Jed Lowrie, Scott Atchison, Darnell McDonald, Tim Wakefield, Francona, Young, Dave Magadan, Rich Hill, Ron Washington, Joaquin Benoit, and Jim Joyce. Tickets are $150, and credit card purchases may be made by calling Rusty Sullivan at 617-624-1237. Or send a check payable to The Sports Museum, 100 Legends Way, Boston 02114 . . . Happy birthday to Dustin Richardson (27), Otis Nixon (52), Guido Grilli (72), and Bob Duliba (76).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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