BOSTON — First a nagging wrist injury, then mononucleosis. The past three years have been filled with all sorts of health problems for Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie.
Now he’s healthy enough to play every day and manager Terry Francona thinks he could handle that role. There just isn’t an opening in Boston’s loaded lineup.
“I think it’s encouraging” that Francona feels that way, Lowrie said Thursday, “because I have the same feeling about me being an everyday player. As far as what the situation is right now, I don’t have a lot of control over that.”
The offseason acquisition of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez shifted Kevin Youkilis to third. Former AL MVP and Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia is the second baseman. Marco Scutaro played shortstop last season, and Francona said he’s still the starter.
Even if Lowrie could play the outfield, there’s not much opportunity there either with Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew as starters. And Lowrie probably doesn’t own a catcher’s mitt.
“The Red Sox aren’t a team that will have a lot of spots open,” he said. “The big thing for me is being healthy again, which I am. I’ll come to camp and compete and see what happens.”
The 26-year-old Lowrie can play all four infield positions and is a switch-hitter with some power.
Francona said Lowrie “gives us something not a lot of teams can say they have, a switch-hitter than can play first, second, third or short and play a lot. He can play for a week, he can play it for a day, he can play it for two weeks. That, at some point, is going to probably save us. How many times have you seen where everybody stays healthy?”
Certainly not last season.
A broken left foot limited Pedroia to 75 games. Youkilis played in 102 before a torn muscle in his right thumb ended his season. Scutaro played 150 games but shoulder problems forced him to finish the season at second base, where the throw to first is shorter.
Lowrie spent the first 94 games last year on the disabled list with mononucleosis, then played in 55 of the remaining 68, starting 45. He hit .287 with nine homers and 24 RBIs.
He said he first experienced symptoms toward the end of the 2008 season when he hit .258 in 81 games as a rookie with Boston.
“I just attributed it to a long season, a very up-and-down season that had some experiences that I had never gone through before,” Lowrie said before the Boston baseball writers annual dinner. “I got diagnosed with mono in spring training (last year) so when I actually got it would be pure speculation, but I really felt the (brunt) of it right in spring training.”
He had played with an injured left wrist for much of the second half of the 2008 season. He was Boston’s opening-day shortstop in 2009 but got off to a 1-for-18 start at the plate. He went on the disabled list on April 12, had surgery nine days later and didn’t return to the Red Sox until July 18.
But just a month later, Lowrie went back on the disabled list because of an irritated left forearm and wasn’t activated until Sept. 8. He wound up hitting .147 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 32 games.
Then the mononucleosis hit.
Here we go again, he thought.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have those feelings at some point,” Lowrie said, “but I tried not to dwell on them because it wasn’t going to do me any good. At that point, I just needed to get healthy.”
Now he is.
He’s had no offseason health issues for the “first time since I can really remember,” he said. “It seems like it’s been so long, so it’s been exciting because of the quality of work that I’ve been able to put in.”
Lowrie has been working out in Toronto, where his fiance works.
“I feel great,” he said. “It’s been the most productive offseason that I’ve had in a long time.”
So he’s ready to play a lot. And if he doesn’t get the chance, at least he’s with a perennial playoff contender that added power, speed, hitting and defense when it picked up Gonzalez and Crawford.
“It’s nice because a lot of guys don’t have that opportunity” to make a run at the World Series, he said. “I remember my first couple of years acquiring guys like Mark Kotsay or Sean Casey who had been in the game for 10, 11, 12 years and had never experienced a postseason.”
As a rookie in 2008, Lowrie went 4 for 11 in the AL division series as the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 3-1. Then Boston lost the AL championship series to the Tampa Bay Rays in seven games.
“I was a big part of the postseason team my rookie year,” he said. “I think the experience gained and the scrutiny that you’re under here only makes you a better player.”