Julio Lugo has been anything but consistent since arriving in Boston with a four-year, $36 million contract in 2007. He has shown flashes of being the speedy, solid-hitting top-of-the-order hitter the Red Sox signed him to be, but his .247 batting average in 229 games in Boston has left a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
However, the 33-year-old shortstop has never been short of confidence, and now that Boston has activated from the disabled list after a spring training knee injury- and that Jed Lowrie will miss six-to-eight weeks following wrist surgery- he has never felt more confident in his ability to deliver full-time production for the Red Sox.
“I think he feels pretty good about himself,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona told RedSox.com’s Justice Hill of Lugo. “I think he’s trying to still work on some strength.”
The plan is to ease Lugo back into playing and eventually make him the full-time starter. Fortunately, Nick Green has played well in his and Lowrie’s absences.
Green has contributed admirably offensively, hitting .298/.365/.468 with six extra-base hits in 47 at-bats. He has played somewhat inconsistently defensively, committing five errors, but has been fine using his powerful throwing arm- his biggest asset- to gun down runners.
Lugo still has plenty to prove to Red Sox Nation. If he put his tools together for an entire season, he could be a strong presence for the Red Sox at the bottom of the order. Putting his speed in the ninth spot in the order could potentially be very valuable…If he gets on base often enough.
The Red Sox are playing outstanding baseball right now, riding an 11-game winning streak after a rocky 2-6 start. They swept a nine-game homestand against Baltimore, Minnesota and the Yankees, and carried that into Cleveland Monday night for the 3-1 victory.
They have gotten great starting pitching, dominant relief work and timely hitting, especially from Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis, who combined have hit three home runs in the ninth inning or later in the last four games.
For those reasons, there is no need to rush Lugo back into the lineup. But once he is back into everyday mode, he needs to show the Red Sox why they awarded him his contract in the first place.
His inconsistency at the plate and in the field has frustrated fans and the organization, and his bloated contract makes him nearly impossible to trade. So if he doesn’t start producing on a consistent basis, the Red Sox are stuck with an albatross at shortstop.
But make no mistake, Lugo is itching to get back into the lineup and stay there.
“My body’s going to tell me what I’m capable of doing,” Lugo told Hill. “But yeah, you want to play every day. I want to get my feet wet again with the guys—with the team.”
By “you,” Lugo certainly means himself. He is definitely up for the challenge. But the question is whether or not he can fulfill it.