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Lowrie’s doctor “cautiously optimistic” surgery can be avoided

04.15.09 at 9:30 pm ET
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It has been a brutal couple of days for Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. He awoke on Sunday experiencing the same symptoms that rendered him ineffective as a left-handed hitter over the final months of 2008. He landed on the disabled list and flew back to Boston on Monday, met with three doctors in Boston on Tuesday, then woke up at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday for an early-morning flight to Baltimore, where he spent the day and flew back before finally landing back in Boston a bit after 6 p.m.

“It’s been a long couple days, but I guess it’s better to just get it out of the way,” said Lowrie.

Lowrie flew to Baltimore to meet with Dr. Thomas Graham of the Curtis National Hand Center. Graham worked to pinpoint the areas that have been the source of Lowrie’s discomfort and weakness, both over the final months of last year and since late March, and administered  two cortisone injections in the affected areas.

The shortstop said in a phone interview that Graham was “cautiously optimistic” that the shots, combined with rest and then a rehab program, might allow his condition to improve. Lowrie, whose wrist is stiff and in a brace following the injections, will be re-examined towards the end of a normal rehab program — he guessed that it might be after three to five weeks, though Red Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters in Oakland that the shortstop might be able to resume some baseball activity within two weeks – to determine whether that conservative treatment course will work, or whether surgery will be necessary.

Three scenarios are possible once the effects of the cortisone subside.

“One is that the cortisone didn’t work, and surgery is needed, whenver the cortisone wears off and it stops feeling good. Two is that it’s a short-term fix, that it feels good for a little while kind of like it did this offseason through spring training, and then the surgery is needed when that’s done. Or, it’s a long-term solution,” said Lowrie. “We decided that there was no reason to rush right into surgery, especially when you’re talking about a wrist, when there are more avenues to explore that are possibly less invasive such as a cortisone shot.”

That such scenarios are on the table is a bit bewildering for Lowrie. An offseason of rest and rehab seemed to pay signficant dividends, as his strength improved substantially from the end of last year to the time when he reported to spring training. Lowrie gained confidence as he proved capable of turning on good fastballs from right-handed pitchers, and believed that the injury was behind him during a spring when he was likely the Red Sox’ best hitter.

But Lowrie recalled feeling a return of soreness in the wrist after the Red Sox traveled to Tampa Bay to play the Yankees on March 24. Initially, he thought the soreness was a byproduct of returning from the injury. Instead, the symptoms got no better.

Still, even as the 24-year-old stopped hitting with the authority that he had exhibited as a left-handed batter over the first month of spring training, he believed that the issue was merely one of mechanics. That changed Sunday in Anaheim, when Lowrie awoke and discovered that his wrist was exhibiting the same issues that it did down the stretch last year, when his strength loss rendered him unable to hit effectively as a left-hander.

“That’s when I brought it to the attention of the trainers,” said Lowrie.

The two problem areas identified by Graham were the scapholunate ligament, in the top of his hand, the still-fractured ulnar styloid, the same break in his wrist that existed last year. The only way the break can be repaired, Lowrie said, is with surgery, though Graham told Lowrie that in some instances players have been able to remain on the field with that injury.

“It’s still an area of concern,” said Lowrie. “That’s what the cortisone will tell.”

Lowrie’s ECU tendon (the same one in which David Ortiz suffered a partial tear last year that landed him on the D.L.) is also inflamed, though there is some question about whether the fracture in his wrist is causing the tendon inflammation, or whether the tendon is the source of pain in the fracture.

Lowrie and the Sox are hopeful that surgery can be avoided. If not, there are two potential surgical options, with different implications for his availability for the rest of 2009.

“It wasn’t talked about in detail because we’re not going down that path yet. Hopefully it never comes to this,” said Lowrie. “If (the injury) continues on, I can either have the bone — the ulna styloid — reattached to the ulna or get it taken out. If it’s removed, it will be a shorter rehab period. If it’s attached, it’s a little longer.”

A year ago, Lowrie played through the injury because it was clear that doing so was in the best interests of the team. With fellow shortstop Julio Lugo on the sidelines due to his torn quadriceps muscle, Lowrie felt that he could help his team even while playing through the condition (a notion that was validated when he hit a walkoff single in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Angels).

With the recurrence of the injury, however, Lowrie recognized that playing through that sort of pain — and with diminished performance — for another full season was not an option.

“I have to be realistic about this. I have to get healthy so I can be the productive player that I know that I am,” said Lowrie. “It’s important to figure this out now to get healthy and to figure this out. I don’t want it to linger my whole career. If this is something long-term, I don’t want to have to get cortisone two, three, four times a year and hope that it will heal later.

“I have such a drive to be out there with my teammates. It’s hard to step back from that. Everyone around me in the clubhouse is so team-first oriented,” he continued. “Last year, I played injured. I thought that was the best thing for the team, for me to battle through it. It happened again this year, unfortunately, with the same kind of injury. It’s time for me to figure out a long-term solution where this doesn’t keep recurring.”

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