High on Lowell

So, can we all agree that we were wrong about Mike Lowell?

This was the guy nobody wanted, remember, the necessary ingredient in any possible deal for Josh Beckett. Coming off a season in which he hit just .236, it wasn’t exactly like clubs were jumping at the chance to take on the $18 million and two years left on the third baseman’s contract.

But this, of course, is where the “haves” like the Red Sox can come in. Nine million dollars a season? Heck, they were already spending half of that to have Edgar Renteria not play for them any longer. Indeed, a relatively small price to pay for the potential long-term return on a front-line guy like Beckett. Besides, even if his bat remained slower than the plot to “Prison Break”, at least they could rationalize that they were getting a Gold Glove to play third.


Turns out, his offense ain’t so bad either.

In last night’s 8-6 win in Cleveland, Lowell raised his batting average to .304 with a 3 for 4 night hitting in front of waifs Willie Harris and Alex Gonzalez (who are batting a combined .139). Only the Rangers’ Michael Young has more doubles than Lowell thus far, and despite the presence of a pair of uncharacteristic throwing errors, Lowell has played a nifty third. (Speaking of nifty D, check out Hanley Ramirez, the man who went the other way for Beckett and Lowell, when you have the opportunity.)
Not that we should be utterly delighted at this start to the season. The man, after all, is getting $9 million to do what he does. The point is that the prospects of Lowell busting out the stick that had previously made him a National League power threat were so low back in spring training, when his “slow” bat was all the talk, that this is at the least a sigh of relief.
The power outage is a concern (his Opening Day homer is his only dinger), but it’s not like the Red Sox on the whole are knocking the ball out of the park on a consistent basis. Manny Ramirez’s home run last night, his third of the season, broke a tie with Dustan Mohr and Trot Nixon for second-most on the team. That’s pathetic. Those 900-run-scoring Red Sox? Forget ‘em. They no longer exist, replaced by a bunch more focused on pitching and defense. As Jerry would say, not that there’s anything wrong with that …
As a team, the Red Sox are hitting just .264. They’ve scored 25 fewer runs than league-leader Chicago, and are in the lower echelon in total home runs. In large part due to the extended loss of leadoff man Coco Crisp, Mark Loretta’s average has plummeted to .235. Jason Varitek’s .246 average is downright Gedmanian. There’s a lot to like about Boston’s 5-1 record in one-run games in that it speaks volumes about the pitching staff. Unfortunately, six one-run contests in just 20 games speaks volumes about the struggling offense as well.
Gonzalez wasn’t expected to light things up offensively, but combined with Crisp’s absence his struggles are only magnified. I know, we all fell in love with Adam Stern, but in the time he subbed for Crisp, he only mustered a .150 average. Mohr hasn’t been much of an improvement at .143, and Harris even worse with just one hit in 14 at-bats. Ramirez has finally flipped the “on” switch, so that momentary concern is over and done with for another year, but what of Varitek? His two-hit night last evening may have shown signs he’s ready to break out of this funk, and he’ll have the night to himself later on, as we get set for another episode of the wonderful adventures of Josh Bard catching Tim Wakefield.
With lefty Cliff Lee going for the Indians, Nixon will sit in favor of Wily Mo Pena, which should solidify Wakefield’s “why me?” look on the mound. So, with both Nixon and Varitek out of the lineup, Lowell will likely move up to fifth in the order, a spot in which he was 0 for 4 last week against Tampa, his only appearance in that spot this season. In 29 at-bats, Lowell is hitting .207 from the sixth slot, and .375 batting seventh.
The temptation will be to move Lowell up in the lineup with Varitek struggling, but the numbers quite obviously force resistance to do so.
I’m not sure if there is any irony in the fact that Lowell led Boston in hits on a night that Ramirez hit a bomb off Guillermo Mota, the third ingredient in what has widely been tabbed, “The Beckett Deal.” Mota was of course dealt to the Indians for Crisp along with Andy Marte, and he paid immediate dividends for the Red Sox. Beckett goes tomorrow.
Mike Lowell has proven so far to be more than a throw-in to that trade. Nothing to go crazy about, but at least you can stop holding your breath.