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Lowrie won’t be shortchanged

Red Sox plan to keep him in play

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / January 21, 2011

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Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said last week that Jed Lowrie was in a position to challenge incumbent shortstop Marco Scutaro for playing time.

The players, Epstein said, would determine their roles by how they performed in spring training, and the final decision would be up to manager Terry Francona.

Pitchers and catchers don’t report for another three weeks and position players a few days after that. But Francona isn’t waiting to make up his mind.

“Scutaro’s our shortstop,’’ he said yesterday.

That would seem to settle that. According to Francona, Lowrie will play all four infield positions off the bench and play often, thanks to his defensive versatility and ability to switch-hit. It was similar to the statement Francona made at the winter meetings in December.

Term it a disagreement — and a relatively mild one at that. Epstein and the front office have long believed in the potential of Lowrie, a former supplemental first-round draft pick out of Stanford. They have far less time invested in Scutaro, a well-traveled veteran who was signed as a stopgap.

For the last two seasons, Francona has rarely had Lowrie available. He played just 32 games in 2009 because of a lingering wrist injury and didn’t join the team last season until late July after a long bout with mononucleosis.

“It’s not that he was an afterthought,’’ Francona said. “He just wasn’t around.’’

Scutaro played in all but 12 games last season despite shoulder and neck injuries that would have driven less tolerant players to the disabled list. Scutaro’s injuries did not require surgery, but he was sent home with a rehabilitation program to follow.

Scutaro hit .275 with a .333 on-base percentage and 56 RBIs. Lowrie, in fewer games, was more productive. He hit .287 with 23 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs over 171 at-bats. His on-base percentage was a robust .381.

In the end, both Epstein and Francona could get what they want. With second baseman Dustin Pedroia coming off surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot, he may need extra days off.

The same could prove true for third baseman Kevin Youkilis and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who also had offseason surgeries. Throw in days subbing for Scutaro, and Lowrie will not lack for opportunity.

“He gives us something not a lot of teams can say they have — a switch-hitter that can play first, second, third, or short, and play a lot,’’ Francona said. “He can play it for a week, he can play it for a day, he can play it for two weeks. That, at some point, is going to probably save us. How many times have you seen where everybody stays healthy?

“There’s a lot to really like. I think Jed is certainly an everyday player. It may not happen in April.’’

After two truncated seasons, Lowrie realizes he is in no position to have expectations beyond being on the Opening Day roster.

“I think being healthy is a big opportunity for me,’’ he said. “With what I’ve been through the last couple of years, I’m just going to be prepared when I get down there to be an everyday player and take it from there.

“I’m not a utility player. But the Boston Red Sox are an organization where it’s hard to be a starting player. I feel like I could be a starter with this team. I feel like I could be a starter on most every team in the major leagues. I’m just going to prepare myself to be that player and take it from there.’’

Lowrie has enjoyed being able to prepare for the season without the hindrance of a sore wrist.

“I was able to accomplish about the same,’’ he said. “It’s not that I did more this offseason. The quality of the work was better because I had nothing holding me back. There was a different purpose behind it.’’

Lowrie is eager to see the team gather in Fort Myers, Fla.

“It’s very exciting,’’ he said. “The guys they were able to acquire this offseason are world-class baseball players and guys that will have an immediate impact. It’s going to be fun to a part of a team like that because of the possibilities.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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