HOUSTON -- Jed Lowrie was eager to become a starter when he was traded to the Houston Astros by the Boston Red Sox in December after several injury-filled seasons that left him in a utility role.
Lowrie took over as the everyday shortstop and quickly became one of the high points of Houston’s tough first half. He leads the Astros with a career-high 14 homers and has helped speed the defensive development of young second baseman Jose Altuve.
He is hitting .254 with 71 hits and 36 RBIs for the Astros, whose terrible road record has left them with the worst record in baseball at the break (33-53).
The 78 games Lowrie played in the first half are only 10 fewer than his career high set last year.
He made his major league debut in 2008, but never played a full season because of injuries to his left wrist, left forearm and right shoulder. He also missed time because of mononucleosis.
Despite his track record, the switch-hitter was unhappy that he gained the label of being injury-prone.
"If you were to ask me, I thought it was unfair due to the nature of the injuries, but the reality was if you were to look back I missed a lot of games because of injury," he said. "I’m looking to play a full season and stay healthy and kind of shake that."
The injury bug followed him to Houston when he sprained his right thumb in spring training. But it wasn’t serious, and he made his debut with the Astros after missing the first six games.
He impressed immediately, hitting .297 with two homers with seven RBIs in April. Lowrie continued to heat up in May, connecting for six home runs, seven doubles and 14 RBIs. His averaged tapered off in June, but the power remained and he added six homers in the month.
The Astros knew has was solid on defense and a good hitter, but they have been a bit surprised by his power. Lowrie had hit just 19 home runs combined in his first four major league seasons.
His 14 home runs in 2012 are the most by a shortstop in the first half of the season in franchise history and second-most by a shortstop in the NL this season. He is teamed with Altuve, who is hitting .303, to provide a big offensive punch from Houston’s middle infield.
"It’s pretty rare to have that, especially the power from those guys," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "Both those guys being a catalyst for our offense is huge."
Lowrie is certainly happy with his offensive outburst in the first half of the season, but knows that the key will be keeping it up after the break.
"I’m not going to get caught up in my numbers halfway through the season," he said. "I know what I’m doing right now; I know if I just keep my head down and keep the same approach, I’m going to continue to have the success that I’ve had."
"When I say success, it doesn’t necessarily mean hard numbers—home runs—but continuing to have quality at-bats."
Perhaps as important as his work at the plate has been his tutelage of Altuve, the 22-year-old infielder, who is in his first full season with the Astros.
"He brings a little bit of experience to the whole situation," Mills said of Lowrie. "When we have things that go on during the game, he’s able to talk to him about it. They’ve done a real good job of talking to one another and helping them through different situations."
Altuve said Lowrie has shared many things with him, including the importance of slowing down to make a play instead of rushing and committing an error. But just knowing he’s there to help, and getting the opportunity to watch him work has also been big.
"It makes me feel really good when I’m playing with him because he has more years than me in the big leagues, so he makes me feel more comfortable," Altuve said. "He makes all the plays from routine to outstanding ones. It’s good to have a shortstop like him."
Lowrie said playing with Altuve and Houston’s other young players has been one of the high points of his transition from the veteran Red Sox team he had been with for his entire career.
"It’s obviously a different environment, younger guys, guys still trying to learn who they are as players and learning how to play the game. But I think there’s some really talented guys and some guys that could grow into some long-time big leaguers," he said. "Altuve’s just really an exciting player and I think he’s going to continue to get better ... and I look forward to playing with him for a long time."