FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Was Mike Lowell so disturbed by his first two at-bats of Spring Training -- a three-pitch strikeout and a three-pitch foul pop -- that he demanded that manager Terry Francona give him a third at-bat?

As much as that would have made for a nice story, the truth is that Lowell wanted to remember what it was like to hop out of the box following solid contact and get to first base.

After undergoing right hip surgery Oct. 20, Lowell needed that type of test.

When fans last saw Lowell -- in Game 3 of the 2008 American League Division Series -- he hobbled more than he moved, playing with a torn labrum in the hip. But Lowell is getting healthier each day, and he capped Tuesday's first true day back in the box by raking a single to left against Orioles right-hander Bob McCrory.

Lowell then called it a day, one at-bat later than originally scheduled.

"I actually jinxed myself, because I told Tito that if I pop up or something on the second at-bat, and I didn't have to run, I wanted a third at-bat," said Lowell, who served as the designated hitter. "So naturally I pop up on the second at-bat. I think the purpose is to not only get my rhythm, but also test out the running aspect of it."

And he came away from it fine; satisfied, really. The next test will come against the Yankees on Friday night, when Lowell plays third base for the first time this spring.

Lowell was greeted with a nice ovation from the City of Palms Park crowd in that first at-bat, and by the end of the day, he was back in the hit column.

Sure, there was some rust, and it showed in the first couple of at-bats. But the day got more natural for Lowell as it evolved.

"Things felt fast -- like your plate discipline is a little bit behind," said Lowell. "I swung at an 0-2 pitch that probably wasn't the best pitch to swing at. But I think that's part of the timing of why we're here. If not, Spring Training would be five days long. I think that's part of it. I'd much rather finish with the at-bat I did then maybe start with it and end up with the other two. It makes you go home [feeling] a little better."

For the Red Sox, it was reassuring to see Lowell back among the active performers. He has been one of the team's leaders the past three years, and also one of its most productive all-around players.

"It's nice to see him get a hit," said Francona. "It was a good swing. It's nice to see him in the game, nice to have him back."

The Red Sox are off on Wednesday and Lowell will stay in Fort Myers on Thursday and work out, when the team plays the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. He is eager to getting back to third base vs. the Yankees on Friday, when he will ease back in with three or four innings.

"I think it will be more of a test," Lowell said. "I'm not anticipating any problems, but yeah, that little bounce you do right before every pitch, there's going to be a lot of them. I'm really looking forward to it. I think this was step one and playing the field is step two, and then we'll get to the endurance part of just being able to go the whole game and not think about the hip."

Lowell is all but certain he will be in the starting lineup for Opening Day -- which is April 6 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Though the doctors told him his hip won't be fully recovered until a year after the surgery, Lowell expects this to be a fairly normal season in terms of workload and production.

"I'd like to play a full load. I'd like to play, if I can, 150 games," Lowell said. "That's normal. I don't think that's an unrealistic goal."