Lugo pain-free following return to lineup

Lugo pain-free following return to lineup

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, who missed 13 games with tightness in his lower back, went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored in his return to the lineup on Saturday.

"I was looking forward to this day the whole Spring Training," Lugo said after Boston's 16-6 victory over Cincinnati. "I haven't been able to play much, so I felt good.

"I got some hits. I got some good swings. But the most important thing is I didn't feel [any] pain in the back."

The shortstop also made a diving attempt to snare Jeff Keppinger's single through the hole in the second inning. Although Lugo didn't make the play, he felt no ill effects.

"I didn't feel anything," he said. "So far, everything's been good.

"It's been bothering more when I was fielding, when I was taking ground balls. But I felt good. They cracked my back and since then, it feels much better."

Lugo didn't know the reason for the problem with his back.

"I had three vertebrae in there that were locked," he said. "They didn't move. So that didn't give me [any] movement there. That's what was causing the pain, because every time I bent down, they weren't moving right. So now I'm fine. But I don't what caused it."

Lugo, who has just nine at-bats this spring, is expected to serve as the designated hitter Sunday when the Sox travel to Bradenton, Fla., to face the Pirates.

"He felt good, which was good," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We're going to ... probably lead him off and try to continue the progression. Then, if he feels good, we can even use the off-day [Tuesday] like an in-camp day. We'll just see. We tried to take it at a pace where when he starts playing he won't go backwards, and I think we're OK. He's been going through the drills now and getting four innings under his belt today was good. There's no ill effects when he came out."

Lugo said he is uncertain how long it will take to be ready for the season opener March 25 in Tokyo.

"Well, we've been working out. I've been swinging [the bat]," he said. "Your timing, you don't know. Sometimes you get it right away. Sometimes it takes a while. Last year I took a lot of at-bats. It might be different this year."

With the abbreviated Spring Training, Lugo's game preparation will be different going forward.

"At the end of Spring Training, you kind of slow down a little bit to save your energy for the season," he said. "But when you come first to Spring Training, you kind of try to kick it in. By this time, you know if you're ready [and] if your swing is ready [and] your timing's there. ... I'm not at that point right now."

Uncertain if Lugo would be able to play two consecutive games in Japan, Francona said Alex Cora provides the team with a viable option.

"Cora gives us a big luxury," Francona said. "I wouldn't sit here and say [Lugo] can't do it, [but] if we're not comfortable with that, we certainly have a guy who can go in and catch the ball, and that could very well happen."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.