OAKLAND, Calif. — The opportunity finally presented itself for Jed Lowrie.
For four frustrating seasons with the Red Sox he went from top prospect to oft-injured and unreliable utilityman. Dealt to the Astros after the Sox’ 2011 collapse, he spent a season, injured again, on a 107-loss team.
Traded again, to Oakland, Lowrie this year found himself in a clubhouse full of inexpensive upstarts, former first-round picks, and previously not-ready-for-primetime players.
The A’s thrive off others’ rummage and they gave Lowrie yet another chance to become an everyday player who could be free of injury and produce in a lineup that relishes on-base percentage and timely hitting.
Lowrie had 603 at-bats this year at age 29, just 46 fewer than his previous two seasons combined. Lowrie became a dependable cog — batting mostly second and third but sometimes cleanup — for the A’s, who surged in the second half to their second straight American League West title and earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
The A’s quest to reach their first World Series in 23 years begins Friday at O.co Coliseum against the Detroit Tigers.
Lowrie finished the season with a .290 average, 45 doubles, 75 RBIs, 80 runs, and 50 walks — all career highs — and finally shook off the injury label by playing in 154 games.
“I think my numbers are eye-popping because I had a full season,” he said Thursday after the A’s workout. “I didn’t change anything in my approach. I think I’ve matured. I think I’ve gotten stronger but I think it’s just a reflection of a full season. Getting those consistent at-bats, that’s one of those double-edged swords. You have to earn those everyday at-bats but it does make it a little easier.”
A first-round pick in 2005, Lowrie was dealt by the Red Sox to the Astros along with pitching prospect Kyle Weiland for Mark Melancon following the 2011 season. He played 97 games for the Astros but missed two months with a sprained ankle and nerve damage in his leg, after his time in Boston included a torn wrist ligament, mononucleosis, and a shoulder strain.
“It was a bit of an unknown how many games we would get out of him based on the past but he’s been very durable for us,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “You get that switch-hitting dynamic, he’s good from both sides of the plate. He’s been consistent all year offensively and settled in defensively once he started playing shortstop every day. And hitting in the middle of the lineup, he’s been a real force for us.”
Lowrie said the inviting aura in Oakland and staying healthy sparked his resurgence.
“The atmosphere in Boston was a little more serious,” he said. “There’s a lot more eyes, just on a daily basis. This was a nice step from last year, just a really fun environment with a bunch of good guys. Oakland gets guys that are undervalued but who are good players. That’s the way they compete here. It’s no secret that Boston’s budget is bigger than Oakland’s. You’re gonna see a lot bigger names in a clubhouse like that. The majority of guys in here are still establishing themselves.”
The A’s have yet to reach the World Series in the Billy Beane era and they will oppose a Tigers club whose payroll this season was $88 million more than Oakland’s. Lowrie is a prime example of Beane’s plan to compete with fewer resources. The A’s constantly take chances on players who faltered in other locations.
So far, their investment in Lowrie has reaped benefits.
“I had four years in Boston and I enjoyed those four years,” Lowrie said. “It’s great playing at Fenway. The fans are great. But everything kind of comes to an end and I think [the trade] was a natural end. I felt like I needed an opportunity to go play every day. That’s what [Red Sox general manager] Ben [Cherington] told me when he called me and traded me.
“That black [injury] cloud had been following me for a few years. I had always felt and I had always been very vocal and probably sternly vocal about the fact like these were fluke injuries. There wasn’t a lot I could do to stop these. Hopefully I’ve chased some of those clouds away.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gwashNBAGlobe.