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Given green light, no stopping 'em

Page full of 2 -- Just because it's Boston and he's managing the Red Sox, Terry Francona will endure his share of criticism. But Francona has been above reproach in a number of areas, especially in deciding when to give batters the green light on 3-and-0 counts.

Sox batters have gone 7 for 7 with four doubles, a home run, and eight RBIs during Francona's tenure when they have swung at 3-and-0 pitches and put the ball in play. No one has fared better than David Ortiz, who is 3 for 3 with a double, a home run, and three RBIs. Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, and Doug Mirabelli have each delivered in their only swings at 3-and-0 pitches when they have put the ball in play, with all but Varitek doubling home at least one run. Ramirez and Daubach each doubled in two runs.

Batters generally expect pitchers to throw fastballs over the plate on 3-and-0 counts.

"If you have a guy who can hit a fastball and can hurt the [other] team with that fastball and is not going to swing at a bad pitch, you've got to have some trust," Francona said. "I just think it makes sense."

Francona has carefully chosen his spots, often preferring batters show restraint, particularly when the Sox are trailing and need base runners. The Sox have drawn 47 walks this season, including three last night, on the fourth pitch of an at-bat when the count was 3-0.

But Francona has been reluctant to give Ortiz the red light.

"He's a very good fastball hitter," the manager said. "It sometimes seems a little silly to take the bat out of his hands when he's in a spot to get one right down the middle."

Sluggish at the plate

Check his batting average, and Kevin Millar appears to be doing fine. He's batting .306 in May to improve to .264 overall. But Millar had homered only twice and knocked in just 13 runs, lagging behind his regular pace in both categories. It hardly helped that he struck out looking last night against Mark Mulder with the bases loaded to end the first inning. He was 0 for 3.

"I'm battling," Millar said. "It's just that right now the big 3-for-5 game with the five ribbies is just not there. I passed it on to [Mark] Bellhorn."

Millar has gone without a home run in 103 at-bats since April 23 in the Bronx. Only Cesar Crespo (129 at-bats) was mired in a longer streak. But Millar cautioned against panicking. In 2001, he hit seven homers and knocked in 37 runs before the All-Star break and finished with 20 homers and 85 RBIs. A year later, he homered five times and drove in 19 runs before the break and finished with 16 homers and 57 RBIs.

"The home runs haven't been there yet, but it's something that will happen when it happens," Millar said. "Look at it when all is said and done, and hopefully by September everything is going to be normal."

The Sox are 10-1 when Millar has driven in a run. He's batting .250 (10 for 40) with runners in scoring position and .143 (1 for 7) with the bases loaded.

The best news recently for Millar was triggering his $3.5 million option for next year when he singled in the sixth inning Wednesday against the A's. The plate appearance was his 800th over the last two seasons.

Checking in on rehab

Another day, a little more progress for Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon. Garciaparra, who hit again against Harvard righthander Trey Hendricks, said he had "a great day." It was his third straight day of rigorous activity as he ran the bases, fielded grounders, and swung so hard he deposited at least one ball on Lansdowne Street. The shortstop will take regular BP with the team today and swing against a Harvard pitcher tomorrow before the Sox decide on his next step. With the Sox departing for Anaheim Monday, they could be close to setting a tentative date for Garciaparra to go on a rehab assignment.

As for Nixon, he played five innings in right field in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla. Although he made a couple of nice plays, Francona said, Nixon was running at about 75 percent as he tries to come back from a strained left quadriceps.

"It's encouraging, but he's certainly not there yet," Francona said. "He feels it more on the bases than he does in the outfield."

Nixon was scheduled to be reevaluated today and play again tomorrow.

Home treat for Kim

Francona had yet to hear from Byung Hyun Kim since he returned home to South Korea to seek treatment for hip and back problems. When Kim arrived at the airport in Seoul, he told reporters he needed treatment to correct an imbalance in his legs and stiffness in his shoulders and hips. "I have lost balance in my legs since my ankles became sore in my first game of the season," he said, according to the Korea Herald. Kim said he would spend seven to 10 days in Korea and "leave when I'm fully healed." In describing the effect of the injuries on his performance, he said, "How can you expect a car with a flat tire to drive well?" When asked about his name surfacing in trade speculation, Kim was quoted by the Korea Times as saying, "I have been playing baseball all my life and will just do my best wherever I go. Should things come to the worst, maybe I could even pitch for the Kia Tigers," a pro team in Korea . . . Bill Mueller left town with his family to prepare for arthroscopic surgery on his knee today in Phoenix. He will remain in Arizona for a while as he undergoes therapy until he resumes the program in Boston . . . First base coach Lynn Jones was encouraged by news about the prospects of regaining the sight in his eye, though he is "frustrated that it's going to take a little longer than he thought," Francona said. Jones seriously injured the eye in a household accident. Bill Haselman continues to serve as the interim coach . . . Johnny Damon drew a walk off Mulder to reach base safely leading off the first inning for the eighth straight game . . . Sox chairman Tom Werner is scheduled to deliver the commencement address today to more than 160 graduates of the Pine Street Inn's job training and job readiness programs. 

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