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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Almost back in order

Nixon near return, perhaps as a DH

If Nomar Garciaparra batting second last night was not enough of a rarity, how about Trot Nixon starting as a designated hitter for the first time in his major league career? It could happen by tomorrow.

Nixon, who has missed six games since he suffered a minor tear in his left calf, took batting practice yesterday against John Burkett, ran the bases, and fielded fly balls. He expressed optimism about returning before the Red Sox' homestand ends tomorrow.

"I would like to think it's a very good possibility," said Nixon, who was told he would serve as a DH or pinch hitter before he returns to right field.

Nixon, who is batting .309 and ranks among the league leaders in on-base percentage (.400) and slugging (.574), drove the ball well in batting practice and ran without a hitch, though he held back some, on the recommendation of the team's trainers.

"The only question is, what's it going to do when I go 100 percent?" he said.

As a precaution, Nixon has fought the urge to bull his way back into the lineup.

"I can take the pain," he said. "The pain's not a question. It's just a situation where if I chill out for one more day, it might be totally fine after that. But if I go out and do something to it, I might have that nagging pain the rest of the year and into the postseason. I don't want that kind of stuff."

The stakes are too high.

"I realize this team is in a great position to go the playoffs," he said. "I don't want to hurt them, and I don't want to hurt my chances to take part in the postseason, either."

Moving pieces

In a shuffle aimed at snapping a couple of slumps, manager Grady Little moved Garciaparra up to the second spot and substituted Andy Abad at first base for Kevin Millar, with Abad batting eighth. Garciaparra, who entered the game in a 4-for-35 funk (.114), batted second for the first time since Sept. 28, 2002, even though he was hitting .218 (17 for 78) in his career in the second slot. He went 1 for 2 with a double and two walks and scored a run. It marked only the second time this season Garciaparra walked twice in a game.

As for Millar, who was battling a 2-for-27 skid (.074), Little told him Monday he would not start last night. Good thing, since Millar became so stricken overnight by an upset stomach that he was unable to report to the park. Millar had started all but two games since the All-Star break and appeared in all but one.

"It may be a few days overdue, to tell you the truth," Little said of resting Millar.

Little said Millar was suffering from food poisoning. Millar's wife, Jeana, picked up some medicine for him from the Sox medical team.

"He was feeling better after the game when we called him," Little said. "He will be back out there as soon as he can. You can bet on that."

Abad is still looking for his first hit in the major leagues, as he went 0 for 3 despite hitting the ball well each time. He played flawlessly at first base, earning a big pat on the back from Pedro Martinez, but is now hitless in nine career at-bats. Abad was robbed of extra bases in the seventh inning when Rocco Baldelli made a leaping catch at the center-field wall.

Still, Abad remained upbeat.

"Rico Petrocelli told me one day, `Hits are like bananas, they come in bunches,' " Abad said. "But so do outs. If I just stay consistent and have quality at-bats like I did tonight, eventually one of those is going to drop for me."

Hitting 100

Martinez became the 10th pitcher to win 100 games in a Sox uniform. He improved to 100-28, by far the best winning percentage among the franchise's 100-plus winners. Martinez tossed his third complete game of the season . . . The Sox improved to 24-15 in one-run games and posted their 22d last-at-bat victory . . . Bill Mueller (1 for 2 with a sac fly) has hit .500 over his last 10 games to raise his league-leading average to .331 . . . Manny Ramirez broke his club record for righthanded batters by drawing his 26th intentional walk of the season. Ted Williams, a lefthanded hitter, set the American League and franchise record with 33 intentional walks in 1957 . . . Official scorer Charles Scoggins announced a scoring change from Saturday's game against the White Sox. An error charged to catcher Doug Mirabelli in the fourth inning instead was changed to a throwing error on right fielder Gabe Kapler . . . The inaugural class of Red Sox Scholars -- 25 middle school students long on academic talent and short on financial resources -- was introduced before the game. The students, all of whom attend Boston public schools, will receive $5,000 college scholarships from the Red Sox Foundation. The foundation receives funds from the club's partners, fans, and corporate sponsors. The program is a partnership among the Sox Foundation, the Boston schools, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the Building Educated Leaders for Life project.

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