Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Lowell continues to take high road
By Gordon Edes
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Whatever agonizing that is taking place is being done in private. With his wife, perhaps. Close friends. His agents. Maybe even with manager Terry Francona.
Any place where no one is jotting down, recording or filming his thoughts. Ten days before the start of the regular season, Mike Lowell remains in as much limbo as he did when training camp started with a new third baseman in town, or going back even further, to the day last December when the Red Sox struck a deal with the Texas Rangers that was later voided.
But Lowell, after a media session early in spring training, has vowed not to talk publicly about his uncertain future, the awkwardness of still being here in a backup role for which he has little appetite, the possibility of being traded, the possibility that the Red Sox might just eat his $12 million contract and release him, all options that remain viable. And he has kept that vow.
The closest he came to discussing his situation during Boston's 6-4 win Wednesday over the Pittsburgh Pirates was when he was asked if his recovery from the hip surgery he had in 2008 had not advanced as much as he had predicted. Lowell asserted that doctors told him he'd be much further along in his second season removed from the operation to repair the torn labrum in his hip.
"With X-rays and what I've done, I think what I was not aware of was that the best-case scenario for my hip was status quo post-surgery," he said, "meaning whatever cartilage damage I had -- which was technically pretty significant on the hip side -- wasn't going to get better.
"I don't know if it was my optimism -- I do believe it's what I was told -- was that it was going to get better. I would say in that sense, would I compare it to how I was running in '07? No. I would say no.
"In that sense, it's a little disappointing, but I still stick to that I really felt like every stride I took, especially at the beginning of the year last year, was very delicate, and I
think I'm better than last year."
Lowell said he has no trouble jumping. He can push hard off both feet. His first step, so vital in fielding at third base, is better. His overall strength is better.
What he'd hoped, he said, was that he would be running more like he was before surgery. That hasn't happened, even while wearing a wrap, which seemed to him to make it worse. He has tossed the wrap.
"There's a certain condition in the hip that will never allow me to get to the point where I was in '07 and prior," he said. "Of course that's disappointing."
Disappointing, he said, but not debilitating.
''I can't believe anyone drafted me or put me in a certain position in the lineup," he said, "because of my ability to run out a double. I say that seriously, I really do."
The teams that are contemplating a trade for him -- the Rangers and Florida Marlins are among the teams that have looked -- probably won't be excited to hear Lowell's self-diagnosis. And since he's had only a handful of at-bats -- 10, in which he has produced one hit -- there may be some doubt about what he can do offensively, although with his hip in far worse condition last season, Lowell put up some respectable numbers (.290, 17 HRs, 75 RBIs), especially given that he missed 43 games.
Lowell's surgically repaired thumb, he said, is not an issue, at least when he's in a game. There's still some fatigue, he said, when he's taking a lot of swings, but as far as he can tell, game performance is unaffected.
In the face of long odds, Lowell has maintained the grace and sense of humor that have long endeared him to those who have come to know him over the course of his 11-year big league career.
Listen, for example, to the way he described how playing first base, which he played Wednesday, has made him more conversational.
"I was asked, 'How are the kids and family?' 'Is this guy making the team?' 'Who's this guy?'" he said.
The words really fly, he said, when a runner reaches base and the first-base coach, who on Wednesday was Carlos Garcia of the Pirates, comes to consult the runner.
"You can almost not talk," Lowell said. "When I'd get to first base, I'd say 'hi' to the first baseman, but you're gone after three, four pitches. I feel like I know Garcia. He's almost like family after five innings. No wonder everyone loves Sean Casey so much. He knows the family history of every first-base coach."
He also joked about the ball he heaved over the grandstand in City of Palms Park Tuesday after he'd bobbled a ball during an infield drill. "Who was the guy who did that in Yankee Stadium? Dave Righetti? That was my 'Rags' moment," he said.
Lowell said there are aspects to playing first base that he enjoys. He's involved in a lot more plays, and he doesn't have to worry about the cross-diamond throws he made as a third baseman. Still, he said, he usually runs through a checklist of things he needs to do -- trailing the runner, where to go on cutoffs -- that have yet to become a matter of habit.
And there are limits to the chatter at the bag. "I'm still scared that I'm going to be looking at Garcia, and Josh [Beckett] is going to turn and put one in my forehead," he said.
The Sox have other options as backups at first and third. Bill Hall can play third. Kevin Youkilis can cross the diamond from first to third. Victor Martinez can play first. Lowell doesn't fit an obvious need as a backup, and doesn't figure to get enough at-bats in that role to make it worth keeping his bat around. With Jed Lowrie out with mono -- he's been sick for two weeks now -- and Hall an unconvincing alternative at short, the Sox have made it known they're in the market for a backup shortstop.
Lowell will let others consider the various scenarios. All he knows is that he is playing again Saturday, probably at third, according to Francona. Beyond that, he's not saying a word. Not yet, anyway.
"I'd love to talk to you more," he said, "but I have to catch the van."
|Mike Lowell says he feels better physically in his second season since hip surgery, but not as good as he did in 2007.|
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.