By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jed Lowrie returned to the Red Sox lineup Monday night, having served a seven-week stint on the disabled list because of a shoulder injury.
Perhaps not so incidentally, Marco Scutato, who had held down the starting shortstop job both early in the season and then while Lowrie was sidelined, enjoyed his second straight multi-hit game.
Scutaro, who banged out four hits Sunday night against the Yankees, added three more in the Red Sox' wild 8-6 win over the Minnesota Twins.
What's a manager to do?
On the face of it, it seems odd that the Sox have gotten more than two-thirds through the season -- and posted the second-best record in baseball -- without a clear decision being made about the identity of the starting shortstop.
Scutaro began the season as the starter at the position not so much on merit, but rather, loyalty. Scutaro had played hurt for much of 2010, through a shoulder injury and and an elbow injury, and stayed on the field, knowing that two-thirds of the rest of the infield -- Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis -- was already laid up.
Terry Francona thought he owed it to Scutaro to give him the starter's spot in the spring, a reward for the toughness and dedication Scutaro showed last season when the Sox were decimated.
That didn't last long, however. Scutaro started slowly while Lowrie, getting the odd start at short or third, began roping line drives while the remainder of the Red Sox lineup slumbered.
As Francona noted Monday: "Shoot, he was our best hitter for the first six weeks (of the season).''
Eventually, that distinction earned Lowrie the regular shortstop job, though Francona, as is his habit, never directly made that announcement.
But then in late May, Lowrie collided with Carl Crawford on a pop-up in Detroit and suffered a pinched nerve in his shoulder which began to affect his game.
He lost strength in his shoulder and his hitting suffered. By mid-June he was back on the disabled list for the third straight season.
The timing could not have been worse for Lowrie, whose career has been slowed by these sort of injury interruptions. Two years ago, it was a hand injury. Last year, he missed the first half of the season with mononucleosis.
"I was feeling great,'' said Lowrie Monday. "That was probablythe hardest part about this one, because I was feeling pretty good at the plate. Just a stroke of bad luck. You continue to push through this, continue to trust my approach and I know Ill be fine.
There's no way to prove, meanwhile, that Scutaro's recent hot stretch at the plate is a reaction to Lowrie's return, but it's hard not to link the two.
Scutaro -- who himself spent time on the DL in May with an oblique strain -- is a proud veteran who undoubtedly believes that he's done nothing to warrant losing playing time. After all, haven't the Sox compiled the best record in the league with him as their starting shortstop?
The two aren't merely competing for the starting job the rest of the way, but also, the job next season. Top prospect Jose Iglesias hasn't shown he can hit Triple A pitching, never mind major league pitching, and probably needs additional seasoning at Pawtucket. Even his defensive game, sparkling as it can be on occasion, requires some refinement.
Francona, for now, isn't tipping his hand.
"We can kind of split it up,'' he said of the shortstop job, "because Jeds not ready to be out there every day. We can look at day game, night game, matchups, and hopefully get the most out of both of them.
Perhaps the two can push each other. Perhaps the combination of Scutaro's steadiness and Lowrie's offensive upside is the perfect one for the short-term.
But it sure seems strange that, with seven weeks to play, a team on pace to win 100 games hasn't yet decided who will be its starting shortstop for Game 1 of the playoffs.