Every week or so between mid-March and the All-Star break, Red Sox manager Terry Francona would field a question from a reporter on the status of Jed Lowrie.
For weeks on end, the inquiry yielded very little and almost became a routine he and the media had to go through. It wasn't like Francona was being evasive — there just wasn't much to report.
Lowrie was so crushed by a bout of mononucleosis that hit him in March that he spent several days in bed as his teammates headed north from Fort Myers and then needed a slew of baby steps to get to the point where he could even think about playing baseball again.
Finally, in the past month, the road to recovery began to become a smooth one. Francona had a little more to tell the reporters. Lowrie packed on some pounds, started a rehab assignment nearly four months after coming down with the illness and saw his long journey — most of which was taken under the cover of darkness — culminate in a return Wednesday in Oakland.
And while the Sox dropped a 6-4 decision to the A's, Lowrie gave the club every indication his presence will be a welcome one.
"All in all, I think I did pretty well," he said.
Compared to his teammates, that might be an understatement.
Lowrie walked in his first plate appearance since October and scored Boston's first run. He then gave the club its second run with an RBI single in the fifth and added another walk in the seventh before being stranded at second base in the Sox' last real scoring chance of the afternoon.
"A couple of walks, he threw in the base hit," Francona said. "He always swings at strikes. I think as he plays a little bit and gets stronger, his legs will get under him a little bit."
Had Lowrie not come down with mono, he figured to have a utility role with the big club once spring training ended. In the time he was out, the need for his presence only increased with the injury to Dustin Pedroia and the need for Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre to constantly play through injuries. The only regular reserve infielders have been Bill Hall, who was also required in the banged-up outfield, and Mike Lowell, limited to the corner spots and now sidelined with more hip pain.
Scutaro had been forced to play 91 of the team's first 94 games despite having to endure cortisone shots in his left elbow and neck. The moment Lowrie was activated, Scutaro was given a much-needed day off.
Lowrie will also see time at third, second and perhaps first base in a pinch. While Hall has provided a boost by playing six positions himself, Lowrie is a better infielder and a vital component for a team that has severely lacked depth.
"When your team is banged up, having versatility is very important," Francona recently said.
We were given the impression each time Francona was asked about Lowrie that the 26-year-old infielder was feeling more like a 76-year-old retiree. He had lost a lot of weight and was constantly fatigued, sometimes to the point where he would need a complete day off after just riding an exercise bike.
But as Lowrie's return became imminent, Francona was quick to remind us that he has given this team a big boost in the past; Lowrie's 2008 ALDS-winning hit and 49-game errorless streak at shortstop earlier that year come to mind.
Finally, after months of uncertainty, Lowrie figures to provide that boost once again. Although it came in a losing effort, he already has.