By Sean McAdam
BOSTON -- A month before the start of spring training, Terry Francona moved to cut off any debate about one of the spots in his lineup before it got started.
Speaking to reporters before the annual Boston Baseball Writers Association awards dinner, Francona stated: "Marco Scutaro is our shortstop."
In Fort Myers, when the topic was broached again, Francona again made his thoughts on the subject known: Jed Lowrie would get some occasional playing time as Scutaro's backup, fill in around the infield and maybe even DH some.
But the point was clear: Scutaro was the starter.
That was then; this is now.
Now the Red Sox are desperate, or, at the very least, in search of some answers.
Scutaro is not the reason the Red Sox are 2-9, the worst record in Major League Baseball. And the team's problems are such that Jed Lowrie isn't about to fix them by himself, not unless he can suddenly A) pitch and B) help the rest of the lineup overcome its failings with men in scoring position.
That said, the Red Sox need to try something different.
Lowrie banged out two doubles Tuesday night in a frustration-filled 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. In his last three games, Lowrie is 6-for-9 with an RBI and a walk and has reached base safely 7 times in his last 10 plate appearances.
"I think when he's swinging it like this," said Francona, "you probably look for ways to get him in the lineup."
"The results are there," said Lowrie of his recent streak. "Thats always nice. But Im really, really happy with the way that Im working right now and my approach. Ive always believed that if I keep that approach the results will be there, and theyre there right now."
Francona isn't about to make any dramatic announcement about Lowrie becoming the new everyday shortstop, because he isn't. Think of the situation like a job share, with, for the time, Scutaro's playing time being reduced somewhat and Lowrie's increased.
Over the winter, there were some in the organization who wanted Lowrie made the starter. He has a higher ceiling offensively than Scutaro, with the ability to drive the ball for extra bases.
The switch-hitting Lowrie showed that ability in the final two months of the season when he compiled an OPS of .907. Against lefties, Lowrie slugged .606.
That was enough to catch the Red Sox' attention and remind them of Lowrie's potential. His problem had been one of durability. Between a hand injury and a case of mononucleosis, Lowrie had been unable to stay (or even get) on the field for the previous season-and-a-half.
But Francona believed he owed Scutaro the courtesy of retaining his job at the start of the year if only for the toughness that Scutaro showed during the injury-plagued 2010 season.
Scutaro continued to play, often in great pain, despite shoulder, neck and arm issues. With the right side of the Red Sox infield already decimated by injuries, Scutaro felt it was his duty to remain in the lineup even though he was far from 100 percent.
Francona couldn't overlook that dedication and knew that putting the job up for grabs in spring training would be unfair to Scutaro.
"If I did that," said Francona said during the spring, "I wouldn't want to play for me."
The manager also recognized that making Scutaro compete for his job in spring training would have an impact in the clubhouse. Scutaro earned his teammates' respect, too, last season, and allowing Lowrie the chance to take the position away would be sending the wrong message to the rest of the clubhouse.
Now, however, Lowrie's going to get a chance to get into the lineup, at least on a more consistent basis than he has been.
Who knows how long this will last? And who knows what Lowrie will do with his opportunity? Not to mention there's no guarantee that one tweak to the everyday lineup will cure what ails the Sox.
But it's a start. And for a team unexpectedly in the division cellar two weeks into the season, it's something.