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Saturday, April 10, 2010
Lowell's not giving up yet

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When he retires, which he expects will happen at the end of the season, Mike Lowell imagines taking some time off, then seeing whether he has a future in broadcasting.

But the matter at hand remains playing baseball. Lowell was in the Red Sox starting lineup for the first time Saturday night, but he is still unconvinced that he will be buried on the bench for the remainder of the season.

And he also wonders what impact his presence on the Sox is having on David Ortiz, who was out of the lineup Saturday, as manager Terry Francona gave three irregulars -- Lowell, Jeremy Hermida and Jason Varitek -- their first starts of 2010. Lowell played third in place of Adrian Beltre, and Hermida played left with Jacoby Ellsbury in center, replacing Mike Cameron. With Varitek catching, Victor Martinez served as DH, with Ortiz sitting.

Ortiz has two hits in his first 14 at-bats but already is drawing disproportionate attention because of his slow start last season. The frustration is showing, as he dropped an expletive-laden rant on reporters in Boston, then was ejected from Friday night's game here by plate umpire Mike Estabrook when Estabrook wouldn't ask for help on a checked-swing call, ruling that Ortiz had whiffed.

Lowell I absolutely think I'll play. ... And I don't know that that chance won't come here. I wasn't supposed to play every day in 2006, either. You don't know. That's the part I really bank on, that you don't know.

-- Mike Lowell

Lowell, a far more productive hitter than most teams have on their bench, was asked if he thought Ortiz was looking over his shoulder at him.

"I don't know,'' he said. "I think when Papi's going well, he's extremely confident, and I agree with him that you need success to breed confidence, and confidence gives you continued success. I find it hard for anyone to be 1 for 9, 2 for 17, 3 for 30, and be confident.

"You need success even if you've been doing it for 10 years. You're a competitor You're used to doing something well in your life. That's what drives people -- what you do well.''

What Lowell calls Boston's "very scrutinizing environment" is not making things any easier for Ortiz. Already, there have been calls for Francona to platoon Ortiz with Lowell, who Saturday night had a single in four trips and made a nice diving stop at third base.

"I love David, and I know the flip side to him is me,'' Lowell said. "That's why I prefer staying out of it. I don't like to see people struggle. I told my wife [Bertica] in '05 that my first six years in the big leagues felt like a year-and-a-half, and '05 felt like eight years in itself, and that's in Florida.''

Lowell, after hitting 27 home runs, driving in 85 runs and batting .293 in 2004, endured the worst season of his career in 2005 for the Marlins, batting .236 with just 8 home runs and 58 RBIs. He was traded that winter to the Red Sox along with Josh Beckett.

"And I was secure,'' Lowell said, recalling the toll '05 took. "I was in the second year of a four-year deal. I wasn't playing for anything (i.e., a new contract) because I don't buy into that, anyway.

"I don't know what David said to you guys [reporters], but I mean, you were talking about seven at-bats. He's been pretty even-keel. Even last year he was even-keel, and that was two months of not hitting, and he kept even-keel. I don't know if that was his way of coming out of it, but he came out of it.''

The topic of Lowell's retirement came out when he was asked whether he was worried what impact playing infrequently would have on his chances to be employed next season.

"I was asked, 'Is this going to affect me next year?' I said, 'No, I'll probably retire.''

He said, "Oh my God,'' with a chuckle, upon hearing that news had gone viral almost immediately. He still clings to the belief that he has unfinished business this season.

Early Friday afternoon, on the first day of the team's visit here, he said he ran eight sprints in the outfield with Hermida and Bill Hall. "I haven't been able to do that in two years,'' he said. "I even texted the surgeon.''

His surgically repaired right hip is not likely to show any further improvement, he said, but it's still much better than it was last season, when even in a hobbled state he was able to bat .290 with 17 home runs and 75 RBIs in 119 games.

That's why he was so frustrated this spring that he was not given a chance to compete for an everyday job.

"I still really like being here, it's just when the game starts I'm, like, really bored, and I've got to hit more because if I'm called on, I want to be ready and that's the hard part. I never had to deal with it. If my numbers merited dealing with it, then it's totally different.''

If he didn't think he'll get a chance to play, either with the Red Sox or another team via trade, he'd feel much differently.

"I absolutely think I'll play,'' he said. "If I didn't, well I probably would -- well, I probably wouldn't cash it in.

"And I don't know that that chance won't come here. I wasn't supposed to play every day in 2006, either. You don't know. That's the part I really bank on, that you don't know.''

In the interim, he is determined to maximize the chances he does get, even if playing Saturday meant taking his first hacks of 2010 against Zack Greinke, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 ("I saw that coming,'' Lowell said of facing Greinke).

"How bad would it be of me saying, 'I want to play, I want to play,' and something happens and I play and I don't perform?'' Lowell said. "That's why I want to be prepared. But that's not hard for me because I actually enjoy it. It's not a sacrifice.

"Like my wife said, 'What do you do for four hours [before a game], play cards, and I say, 'Yeah, we play cards all afternoon.' I like watching video. I like being prepared. I like knowing what's going on.

"After 7 o'clock, that's the part that's a whole new world to me. Before, if you didn't play, you were either hurt or you had the day off. You're hurt, you know you can't play. You have the day off, 'Wow, this may be a good mental break.' But because you're not an everyday player, it's totally different.''

Lowell said it's possible that he could feel differently about his situation in a month.

"But like I said, I'm not going to be an [expletive] about it. If the whole year goes by like this, it goes by like this. I wouldn't change that ovation on opening day for anything.

"I'm not griping about my situation. In my life, I'm happy, everything's super good. My game plan was in 2010, I'm going to be healthy and have a chance to come back. And that opportunity is still there.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.