Lugo thrilled to be back with Red Sox

Lugo thrilled to be back with Red Sox

CLEVELAND -- The smile that shortstop Julio Lugo wore on Monday told all that needed to be told about how he felt being back in a Red Sox uniform.

"I'm happy to be back," said Lugo, sitting in the center of the visitors' clubhouse before the game with the Indians.

The Red Sox are happy to have Lugo back, too.

"I just talked to him a little bit ago," manager Terry Francona said. "I told him, 'Welcome back.' "

Not that the Red Sox have missed Lugo overly much. To the contrary, they rolled into Cleveland riding a 10-game winning streak.

"It just seems like the decisions we're making are all working out," right fielder J.D. Drew said. "But we're playing good baseball as well. I don't want to downplay how well we're playing."

So having Lugo back from the 15-day disabled list can't be a bad thing, though his return to the starting lineup will have to wait a day or two.

Francona decided to start Nick Green again at shortstop in the series opener against the Indians. The decision gives Lugo, who underwent surgery on March 17 to repair a torn meniscus, an additional day to rest his right knee.

"I think he feels pretty good about himself," Francona said of Lugo. "I think he's trying to still work on some strength."

Francona plans to ease Lugo into full-time duty at shortstop. How much Lugo plays in the days ahead will depend on how his knee is feeling, but he looked ready to step back onto the field.

"The hardest part is sitting out," Lugo said. "You're hurt and you can't play, it's just not fun; it's just not fun at all."

Lugo's ready to play now, and he insists that whatever problems he had with the balky knee are behind him. The three days he spent playing at Triple-A Pawtucket silenced any concerns he might have had.

For Lugo, it's just a matter of getting his mind and his legs back to the strength level he needs to handle the grind of playing shortstop every day.

Lugo's treating it all like Spring Training, most of which he missed. So he knows he might not be as sharp as he wants -- or needs -- to be. Still, he's ready to get onto the field.

He's going to let Francona -- who made room for Lugo on the 25-man roster by returning right-hander Michael Bowden to Pawtucket -- make the decision about how much playing time he should get.

Francona, for his part, will let Lugo tell him what's right.

"My body's going to tell me what I'm capable of doing," Lugo said. "But yeah, you want to play every day. I want to get my feet wet again with the guys -- with the team."

The good thing for Lugo, and the Sox, is that there's no need to rush. Green has played well in Lugo's absence, and Lugo's not sure if he can give take the field every day just yet. This is, as he said, still his Spring Training.

Lugo is focusing on the long-term. He just wants to be ready -- 100 percent ready -- for the long haul of the season. Any urgency about playing today or the next day isn't a concern.

Sitting in the clubhouse, he's smiling. He's just happy to be back in uniform.

Justice B. Hill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.