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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona has made it clear time and again that Marco Scutaro will be his starting shortstop for the 2011 season.
When asked earlier in camp whether there would be a competition at the position between Scutaro and Jed Lowrie, Francona broke down the game plan for the start of the season.
There are a few reasons why Scutaro will get the nod at short, but the primary one is that he earned his manager's respect when he played through pain and discomfort in his upper body for the majority of last season.
|Marco Scutaro says he's feeling much stronger than he did last season, when he dealt with neck, chest and arm issues.|
Even so, Scutaro put up decent numbers, including a .275 average with 11 homers and 56 RBIs. He was sound defensively, even though he felt weak because of neck, chest and arm issues.
"It's certainly better," Francona said of Scutaro's health. "He's obviously stronger. All you have to do is look at him to know he's stronger.
"That was tough for him last year. Even taking the pain away, he had no strength. When you start dealing with stuff like that, you can work all you want, it's still not going to help because he lost all that strength on that side. It was tough for him. It was impressive for us because he kept going out there."
In the weeks leading up to spring training, Francona said he felt it owed it to Scutaro to give him the starting job, especially given all he went through last summer.
"It means a lot that he appreciates what I did," Scutaro said Tuesday after the Red Sox beat the Twins 5-0 at Hammond Stadium. "They know about baseball and how hard it is just to play the game. When you're injured it makes it even tougher, but I appreciate what he said.
"It's good to hear that. It's good to hear from your skipper. He's got your back."
Scutaro said he is feeling good and ready to make a more significant contribution in 2011. He spent his offseason getting healthy and will need to continue his shoulder and neck programs in order to stay that way.
"Compared to last year, especially the second half, I feel much better," he said.
There's no doubt Lowrie has dealt with major setbacks during his career. He was limited to 55 games in 2010 because of a bout of mononucleosis. In 2009, he played only 32 games, needing two stints on the disabled list after undergoing surgery on his left wrist. He split time between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket in 2008 and played the majority of the season with a wrist injury.
But Lowrie says he's feeling the best he's felt in a long time, and while he knows what his role will be this season, he still wants to be an everyday player.
Lowrie will be asked to play first, second, third and short for the Red Sox.
"He gives us that super-utility type who can cover us at every position, and the hope is, at some point he grows into an everyday player, because that's how we view him," Francona said. "That may not be in April. We have what we think is a pretty good team, and in the meantime he can help us win games being so versatile."
Lowrie's versatility has been a key factor for the Red Sox in the past, but this season it will be even more important. He's one of the team's most patient hitters and is able to grind out at-bats and wear down opposing pitchers. The switch-hitter posted a .287 average with nine homers and 24 RBIs in 55 games last season.
"I've done it here and there over the last couple of years," Lowrie said. "I've put it on myself to play every day, but if that's what the team needs me to do this year then that's what the team needs."
Lowrie already has played second and short this spring, and at some point he'll play first and third. Because newly acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez continues to rehab his surgically repaired right shoulder, it could be a while before he sees any game action. So Lowrie will be slotted in at first.
At the start of spring training, Lowrie met with Francona, and when he left the manager's office, Lowrie had a clear understanding of his role.
"I understand what they're asking me to do and I completely understand that," Lowrie said. "I'm all for it, but at the same time I need to make sure that I do focus on continuing taking ground balls at shortstop. I think the other thing that came out of the meeting, too, is they don't want me to be a utility player, they want me to be a shortstop that can play other positions."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.