It seems odd now to think back to the time when Jed Lowrie's coaches tried to convince him to stop switch-hitting. In the major leagues and throughout his pro career, the 24-year-old has shown a striking ability to maintain his performance from both sides of the dish.
His commitment to that craft started early. When he started working with private hitting instructor Randy Brack as a nine-year-old, Lowrie was a right-hander. But a simple experiment at the end of a session when he was nine or ten suggested immense promise.
“Before we finished (a lesson), I said, ‘Jump over the other side, see what you can do from the left side,’” said Brack. “About three swings in, I said, ‘He needs to switch hit.’ It was like he had been doing it all his life, even when he was nine years old. It was incredible.”
Lowrie would continue to cultivate his left-handed stroke in the following years, but in games he batted exclusively from the right side until he reached high school. As a freshman, he made the varsity squad as the starting shortstop for North Salem High School. The jump in the level of competition was not seamless.
Lowrie's father Dan recalled that his son hit roughly .350 as a right-hander, and about .200 from his unnatural side of the plate. His coaches were concerned not just about those disparate results but also about the possibility that the freshman's confidence would sag.
“Since maybe 75, 80 percent of his at bats were left-handed, that was a little discouraging,” recalled Dan Lowrie. “But Jed’s makeup was that he was just more determined to make left-handed hitting work for him.”
Lowrie's father and coaches advocated that he take more right-handed at-bats. Lowrie resisted, determined to develop his skill.
The recollections of what actually happened are slightly hazy. Jed Lowrie insists that he stuck to his guns.
“Big spots came up,” recalled Lowrie. “Some of the coaches, it was kind of a collective coaching decision that they thought it would be better if I didn't. I told them I wanted to. I did, and I came through in a couple spots.”
But his father remembered his son hitting right-handed against righties on at least a few occasions, and Lowrie's high school coach recalled an even more dramatic shift during American Legion ball after his freshman campaign.
“We kind of talked to him about, hey, let's put it on hold and hit right-handed for the rest of the summer. At the end of the summer, we can go back and work on it a little bit more,” said Chris Lee, coach at North Salem High. “In one game that was pivotal, he got a base hit right-handed after we talked to him about switching around. He was a little bit reluctant. But we got him to put it on hold for a while.”
Though the memories from that season are hazy, there is complete agreement on what happened next. Lowrie developed his stroke at both sides of the dish to the point where he would never again be asked to give up his left-handed approach.
According to Lee, Lowrie took more than 10,000 swings from each side of the plate during the offseason.
“He used to call and get the keys all the time to go down to our batting cages and hit,” said Lee.
Hitting instructor Brack said that it was not merely the quantity of swings that the teenager took, but rather the thought process behind them that proved significant. Lowrie did not just practice his swing, but strove to understand the mechanical details of it.
As a result, by the time Lowrie showed up for his sophomore season at North Salem, the progress—particularly the power—of his left-handed stroke was startling. In one game, Lee recalled vividly, his shortstop batted left-handed in the bottom of the seventh inning of a tie game. The sophomore crushed the ball.
“It actually hit off a tree—a round ball off of a round tree—about 390-400 feet away. It ricocheted right back to the centerfielder,” said Lee. “Jed slides in under the tag for a run-off homer if you will—it wasn't a walk-off, it was a run-off.”
Thanks to the prevalence of right-handers that he faced, Lowrie became more comfortable as a left-hander than from his native side by his junior year. The results started to suggest as much, with he batted .504 as a right-hander in Legion ball that summer, and .568 from his acquired side.
“You don't see very many lefties,” said Lowrie, “so (left-handed) overtook quickly.”
Now, the 24-year-old is solidifying the bottom of the Red Sox batting order thanks to his aptitude from both sides of the plate.
To be sure, Lowrie's most spectacular big-league results have come from the right side. In 50 plate appearances, he is hitting .364 with a .429 OBP, .591 slugging mark and 1.019 OPS.
Yet while his left-handed numbers—over a larger sample size—fall short of such lofty totals, they remain impressive. He is hitting .289 with a .354 OBP, .433 slugging and .787 OPS. To put those numbers in context, all would rank among the top three American League shortstops with at least 150 plate appearances this season.
And it is difficult to say with certainty that Lowrie is better from either side of the plate. In the minors this year, Lowrie had the same .793 OPS as both a right-hander and left-hander.
The development is not accidental. The kid who used to beg his coach for the keys to the batting cage remains committed to investing the needed effort to succeed as both a right-handed and left-handed hitter, a switch-hitter who can be a productive lineup regular. ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¨
“I know how difficult this game is,” said Lowrie. “I know how much work I have to put in to maintain that approach. All I can do is show up, work, do the same routine every day that I've been doing since I got here, and try to maintain that focus. That's why it's the grind.”
Alex Speier is a Staff Writer for WEEI.com.