Lowell upbeat as he adjusts to first base
Red Sox veteran working way back from thumb surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Making his way back from offseason right thumb surgery and the lingering effects of right hip surgery at the end of the 2008 season, along with being displaced at his regular position, Mike Lowell has been trying to find his comfort zone, both at the plate and in the field.
With the Red Sox playing the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., on Friday, Lowell had five plate appearances in Minor League games at Boston's player development complex.
"With the [scheduled] day off [Wednesday], there's so many guys that can play," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "That's why we brought a lot of guys up here today. [We're] just trying to balance and also get him some at-bats. A home game after a day off would have been perfect. That's not the way it works. [We're] just trying to get some balance and trying to get him what he needs -- to not pound on those hips, but get him some at-bats."
Serving as the designated hitter, jumping between Class A games on Field 3 and Field 4, with Greenville and Salem facing Orioles affiliates, Lowell had two hits, three RBIs, a walk and a strikeout. His first four plate appearances were against left-handed pitchers. In the finale, he hit a two-run homer to left field off a right-hander.
Lowell spoke after his outing, on the condition that the subject of his status not be discussed. Boston attempted to trade him to Texas in December before an injury to his right thumb was detected, necessitating surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament, rescinding the potential deal; meanwhile, Adrian Beltre, whom the Sox acquired as a free agent in January, has supplanted Lowell at third.
Lowell said he would like to have 25 at-bats with positive results this spring before he is comfortable at the plate. His five plate appearances Friday more than doubled the four he had in two Grapefruit League games this spring, against Baltimore on Monday and Tampa Bay on Tuesday. In his first at-bat, Lowell struck out swinging, followed by a walk, a flyout to deep center, a single to short center and a home run.
"Things still feel kind of quick, to be honest with you," Lowell said. "It's just my third day seeing live pitching, and I think the beginning of the spring, even though you don't swing half the time, you get the urge, even standing in with those guys. I didn't have that ability -- not the ability, I just chose not to. But I think it comes quick. I felt a little better each at-bat.
"I think I was almost purposely taking a couple of times at the beginning, because I didn't want to just swing at the first pitch, because even if I hit it well and make an out, I don't think I'm really doing anything constructive. I think I viewed my first at-bat [as a positive], even though I struck out. I saw a changeup, curveball, two-seamer. I think that was my goal. So under those circumstances, I think it was pretty good."
Lowell played first base in the Grapefruit League games, but is expected to return to third base Sunday against the Astros at City of Palms Park, Francona said.
The veteran third baseman hadn't played first base since 1998, while with Columbus, the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate, when he made one error in 42 chances for a .976 fielding percentage. He's comfortable at first -- despite a recurring dream.
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"The responsibilities race through my mind," Lowell said. "I had a recurring dream that I wouldn't cover first on a ground ball. So I'm always [saying to myself], 'Cover first, cover first, cover first.' But it's the little things, like backing up the throw on a sure double, on a possible triple being the trail guy. Those are the things that I'm not used to. So I think my responsibilities have gone through my head a lot. But [I] still don't need to make that throw [from third]. So it's a position that you actually move around maybe a little bit more. But at third, you really don't have time to maybe bobble it. I can literally block it like a catcher and feel like I still have a chance. So it's been different, but I don't think it's been a negative at all."
Lowell has been taking extra work at first base, working with coaches Tim Bogar and Torey Lovullo before the team's daily workouts. The coaches use a fungo bat to hit balls from the second-base area to Lowell at first, simulating throws in the dirt.
"I feel like I've been able to get a lot of work in in that sense," Lowell said. "So I think that's shortened the gap of when I feel comfortable. I mean, I still don't feel as comfortable as I was at third, but there are some similarities. You're just almost flip-flopping where you go. I know at third, to my right, there's no one else but me. So it's just the opposite at first."
For now, though, Lowell's biggest physical test is running, challenging the hip on which he had surgery in October 2008 to repair a torn labrum.
"I think I've worried about it ever since I threw that ball in Tampa Bay [on Sept. 26, 2008], and I felt something pop," he said. "But we'll see. It feels much better than it did last year. So I got to bank on that a little bit."
Lowell's thumb is beginning to feel better, too. It's not at equal strength to his left thumb, but "I believe structurally, it was all right," he said.
He's been able to test it with the bat several times.
"I thankfully have gotten jammed," Lowell said. "I actually want to -- not purposely -- but I knew it was going to happen, and I was curious to see how it turned out. [Rays pitcher] Wade Davis did a good job with that one [Tuesday]. But I thought I passed that test."
Lowell has felt good, overall, in his outings this spring.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "But this is a very relaxed [setting] -- play two innings, move around. It's not so much, I don't worry about playing that one day. It's the 100th game -- although, under my circumstances, I might not see 100 games. So in a sense, I've been like, 'Does it really matter?' But I think it's still my job to be ready, because you never know what's going to happen. You just don't. So I don't want to be in a position where I'm just going to sulk, because you never know -- crazy things happen."
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.