Lowell frustrated about lack of playing time

Lowell frustrated about lack of playing time

NEW YORK -- Earlier this season, it was a formality that Mike Lowell would start whenever the Red Sox faced a lefty starter. But that was when David Ortiz was in the throes of a deep slump. Now that Ortiz is going deep again on a regular basis, Lowell wonders if there is even a viable role for him anymore.

Lowell's reduced role was made clearer to him Tuesday night, as it was Ortiz who got the call against Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who is one of the toughest left-handers in the game.

What were Lowell's thoughts about not being in the lineup?

"I don't know," said Lowell. "I think it's a little unfortunate, but I think somewhat that it's painfully evident I don't really have a role on the team. I think I had a temporary role, but I think that was more to the fact that we had young outfielders because of the injuries to Jacoby [Ellsbury] and [Mike Cameron], and David got off to a slow start."

One thing Lowell tried to make clear several times is that he would never root against Ortiz, a man he's been teammates with since 2006 and considers a friend.

"David's swinging the bat a lot better, which I'm actually happy for," Lowell said. "I actually think he's still a big presence in our lineup. I don't really care what the numbers say. He's that guy that you still fear in that he doesn't have to make really good contact and he can still hit the ball out of the park.

"As a friend and as a teammate, you don't like to see those guys struggle. You just don't. Obviously, I think there's a catch how it affects me."

Not only had Lowell been starting against lefties, but with Cameron and Ellsbury on the disabled list, there's been spots where he could pinch-hit for outfielders Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall and Jeremy Hermida.

"When Jacoby and Cam come back, I just don't really know what my role is," Lowell said. "With those two in the lineup, I don't know who would I hit for. When I hit, I get pinch-run for. I don't play defense."

Lowell even admitted to wondering if the roster, as currently constituted, would be better without him.

"I think sometimes you feel like the team might be better off if you're not on it," Lowell said. "I just eat up a roster spot. I really do. I don't know. If anything, it's a good feeling that I've had so many teammates come up to me and they say they sympathize with my situation. I think I've truly agonized over it. But it's not good or bad, it's just reality. ... I don't know what else to do."

Is there a remedy for the situation?

"I don't know what it is," admitted Lowell. "I know I want to play baseball. I enjoy playing baseball. But I think that's the element that's a little bit out of my control. I just don't see the role here. With David and myself, we are basically two roster spots that don't play in the field. Those spots could be used in a lot of different ways. I mean, we've got a lot of things we've got to fix here. Like I said, it's reality."

The Red Sox are off to a 19-20 start and in fourth place in the American League East, 8 1/2 games behind the Rays. Would Lowell's personal situation be easier to take if Boston was playing better as a team?

"They've been willing to eat a lot of my contract, so maybe that's not holding them back. But I don't know. Sometimes you think, 'Yeah, if that happens, would that be better?' I don't know. But I don't have a crystal ball."
-- Mike Lowell

"Absolutely, absolutely [losing] makes it worse," said Lowell. "I was just as excited as everyone else when we went up 9-7 in that inning [Monday night]. I think the way we played yesterday, being down 6-1 to come back and have a two-run lead in the ninth -- hey, [Jonathan Papelbon's] a human being -- but I think that hurts more.

"I think if we had the Rays' record, I think things would be much different. I think it would make a difference. Would it make a difference in playing time? I don't think so. But I think it would make a difference on how you feel on how the season's going."

Lowell's situation with the Red Sox started to go sour in the offseason, when the club made the evaluation that he no longer had the range to be its starting third baseman. At that point, general manager Theo Epstein put the wheels in motion on a Winter Meetings trade that would have sent Lowell and roughly $9 million to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez.

The deal fell through when Texas' medical staff determined that a right thumb injury Lowell suffered at the end of last season had not healed properly. Lowell underwent surgery in late December, ending any chance he could be traded before Spring Training. Meanwhile, the Red Sox signed three-time Gold Glove Award winner Adrian Beltre to be their new third baseman.

Once Lowell was cleared to play in Grapefruit League games, the Red Sox did explore the trade market again, but they didn't find a good fit.

For the first 10 days of the season, Lowell found the adjustment to sitting most of the time tough. But then he started to get more involved, helped not only by Ortiz's slump but the fact the Red Sox faced a steady stream of lefties for a couple of weeks. Now, Lowell is back where he started. Lowell is hitting .263 with one homer and nine RBIs in 57 at-bats.

Has he considered asking the club to release him?

"Have I given it thought? Sure," said Lowell. "I think that's a normal train of thought to go through. Is that something that would happen? I don't know. I haven't looked that deep into it. I think that's more upper management's decision."

Lowell's salary for 2010 is $12 million, and the Red Sox would still have to pay the balance if they released him. As he noted, they were willing to pay most of that salary to the Rangers if that trade had been consummated.

"They've been willing to eat a lot of my contract, so maybe that's not holding them back," Lowell said. "But I don't know. Sometimes you think, 'Yeah, if that happens, would that be better?' I don't know. But I don't have a crystal ball. I don't think the flip side is always better or always worse. I know the situation here is just ... I just don't see it being very good."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona didn't have much to say about Lowell's comments because "he hasn't said [that] to me."

But Francona did say he put a lot of thought into which DH to use against Sabathia.

"Again, if they'll give us two DHs, I would do it," Francona said. "I thought about it a lot. But in my opinion, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of somebody getting hot. CC has been tougher on righties at times. I know the lefties he's facing are the good lefties. No, I just thought it was the right thing to do. David has swung the bat pretty well and he's got a good history against him anyway. I think he's the one guy in our lineup who's got a couple of home runs against him. In this ballpark, there's a lot of factors that say, 'Play David.'"

Another thing that has Lowell caught in between is that without steady playing time, it's hard to prove his worth to prospective suitors.

"I think that's where my thumb injury really hurt in spring," said Lowell. "Because I still stand by what I said -- that my hip feels so much better. I feel like I can play on an everyday basis. I think those six weeks in Spring Training might have answered a lot of those questions. I think I had that chance. Do I think that hurt? Absolutely.

"But I mean yeah, I'm a little bit in limbo, because, like I said, I don't want to get at-bats at the expense of other guys. I kind of think there's bad karma there. I don't think my results would be that good if you're hoping that. I think I'm just stuck in a situation where I don't really know what to do."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.