Lowell refreshed, in Red Sox's lineup

Lowell refreshed, in Red Sox's lineup

WASHINGTON -- Fresh off three days of rest, Mike Lowell and his surgically repaired right hip aren't ready to run a marathon or anything. That said, Lowell felt refreshed enough to play baseball again, and he was back in the lineup, starting at third base for the Red Sox in Tuesday night's opener of a three-game series against the Nationals.

"I feel rested," said Lowell. "I feel like there's still room for improvement, you know? It's better, but I kind of want to find out if it's something about the preparation or the routine. They've kind of been telling me that it's something that should be expected during the season. Maybe it's just part of that. I don't like to feel tight going into a game. I got here, I stretched out, and I ran in the outfield a couple times. I'm feeling good enough, so we'll go from there."

Perhaps the only surprise about the recent tightness Lowell had is that it didn't come sooner. Through the first couple of months, Lowell's hip was feeling surprisingly well and he played in all but two of the first 67 games before Boston manager Terry Francona gave him Saturday and Sunday off. The Red Sox didn't play on Monday.

"I hope [the break] helped a lot," Francona said. "I think he was pretty sore. That's my fault, because he's willing to go out there and doesn't complain. I probably should have made him sit a few times, and I didn't and I need to do better in that area."

After hitting .310 in April and .307 in May, Lowell entered Tuesday's game with a .220 average in June.

However, Lowell said the hip hasn't impacted his at-bats.

"It's running -- it's the impact," Lowell said. "Hitting is fine. Anything rotational is fine. But getting ready for every pitch [on defense], it seems like nothing, but it's 150, 180 times a game. We're well into our season now, so it's kind of in the grind mode."

Though Lowell is known for being reluctant to take days off, he is at a point now where he realizes that it is sometimes the smart thing to do.

"I don't want to be at a point where I feel like I can't help out," said Lowell. "I don't want to be a minus. I don't know if 100 percent is the right word. I don't know if I'm there, because I feel like I can get stronger and better. But, yeah, I think I have to be a little bit more realistic. Just because I can grind out a day doesn't mean, if he wants to give me the day off, that I should talk him out of it. I think Tito's pretty good at giving guys latitude."

With the Red Sox playing the next six games under National League rules, Lowell will likely get another break or two before the week is out. Without the DH, Francona needs to split at-bats at the corner infield spots between Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz.

From where Lowell sits, the biggest positive is that he doesn't worry about his hip getting to the point it was at during the final stages of last season and into the postseason, where the slightest movement was a chore.

Lowell still speaks regularly with Dr. Peter Asnis, a hip specialist who sat in on the surgery last October.

"I made it specific to Dr. Asnis that I don't think I can mentally or physically or emotionally go through the second half this year like last year," Lowell said. "He assured me that's definitely not the case. That's something I can stock in. He wasn't surprised when I told I felt like I was more locked up than other times."

What Lowell is going through now seems typical of the recovery from the type of surgery he had.

"I just think it's a matter of what happens after the surgery," said Lowell. "My flexibility is the same, all that. It's just tight. They told me it's normal. People with 'arthritic' conditions have good days and bad days, and when they have bad days, they just rest. I don't know if I have that luxury all the time. We'll just pay attention to how things go."

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