Lowell: Irregular playing time is 'hard'
Red Sox third baseman adjusting to diminished role
CHICAGO -- Mike Lowell is the consummate team player. He is the proud owner of two World Series rings and hopes for a third this October. That said, Lowell isn't going to pretend that his current situation -- not playing every day despite a hot bat -- is easy.
When the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez from the Indians on July 31, they added an impact bat. They also added a logjam for manager Terry Francona, one that has left Lowell out of the starting lineup for 12 of the first 32 games since Martinez's arrival.
"It is hard," said Lowell, who didn't start Friday against the White Sox. "It absolutely is hard. Because I think when you're going good, [playing] helps keep your rhythm. You don't always have those stretches where you feel really good at the plate, and I think when you're on a run like that, you want to maintain that consistency as much as possible. Yeah, it's not easy. But it's not like I'm hoping the guys for the guys that are playing when I'm not to do poorly."
In a sense, Lowell has gone from one extreme to the other. He started 58 of the season's first 60 games, and that ended up being too much for his surgically repaired right hip. Lowell wound up on the disabled list from June 30-July 16.
At that point, Lowell knew he would get more frequent rest, but he is candid about the fact he didn't want quite this much.
As far back as July 22, when the Sox acquired Adam LaRoche -- whom they later spun off to make room for Martinez -- Lowell stated that he figured he would play a lot if he hit a lot.
Since the All-Star break, Lowell is hitting .339 with six homers, 26 RBIs, a .389 on-base percentage and a .583 slugging percentage.
But Lowell doesn't feel singled out or slighted. Kevin Youkilis is one of the best hitters in the game. David Ortiz is still an impact player, though not what he once was. So on days when captain Jason Varitek catches, Martinez, who has an elite bat, starts at first base, most often moving Youkilis to third base and leaving Lowell out of the lineup.
"I don't blame anybody," Lowell said. "I understand the situation. I don't think it's an easy situation for Tito. Like I said, it's great for upper management to compose a team of as many players as you can to help you win, but that doesn't make it an easy scenario.
"That doesn't ease the frustration of you wanting to be in there. There's days where some matchups are favorable and some aren't. But being a guy who is used to playing every day, especially when I'm feeling good health-wise, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be in the lineup."
Lowell has one year left on the three-year, $37.5 million pact he signed shortly after winning the Most Valuable Player in the 2007 World Series. He hasn't spent a lot of time dwelling on what role he will be in next year, but is confident that the Red Sox don't see the current rotation system as something that would be functional for an entire season.
"I'm going to hang my hat on something that [assistant general manager] Jed Hoyer said in an article," Lowell said. "He said this can't work for 162 games. I don't think so, I really don't. That's way too much mixing and matching and too many days off. I think you would kill the rhythm ... you're going to really take the rhythm out of three guys. But that's not my problem. I'm worried about today."
And even though Friday was a day Lowell didn't play, he was hoping for big things from Martinez, Ortiz, Varitek and Youkilis -- the players he is competing with for at-bats.
"I think there's a big difference between what people consider as unhappiness," said Lowell. "My desire it to play every day, but my desire is not to ... the days I'm not in there, I don't have the attitude of, I hope we lose and I hope whoever is in there does bad.
"First of all, I think that's the wrong way to go about things. Secondly, we're all here -- all 25 guys in this clubhouse are still in it for a common goal, to get to the postseason. I'd be going away from our goal if I wanted us to do bad. It really doesn't enter my mind. It doesn't mean that you don't want to be in there, especially when you feel you're a person who can contribute."
While being on a contending team that has played well of late can make Lowell's situation easier, it can also make it harder. At this time of the year, when the games are crucial every day, Lowell wants to be in the mix.
"This is crucial," said Lowell. "Absolutely. This is a crucial part of our season. Like I said, when you're swinging the bat well, you want to be a part of it. I think when you're doing well, not only do you want to be a part of it, but you feel like you have an influence on the outcome of the game. Yesterday, I know I didn't any hits, but I came in with a situation and got a sac fly and I look at that as a quality at-bat. But yeah, it is what is. I'm usually told the night before and I deal with it."
Francona respects the way Lowell has handled the situation.
"I think he'd like to play every day. That's his nature, which I respect," Francona said. "I think he's allowed it to be good for him physically. He's done things on days he hasn't played to try to [stay fresh]. He hasn't gone out and taken 150 ground balls. He's monitored it. He's done a good job. I think it's been good for him health-wise. His nature is kind of a grinder where he'll figure out a way to go out and play, regardless of how he feels. I understand that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.