NEW YORK -- Four months after Byung Hyun Kim's last subpar appearance for the Red Sox, the enigmatic righthander surfaced yesterday in the Bronx with a chance to pitch again for the Sox this season. Kim had been quietly working out in Boston after the Triple A season ended.
The Sox have yet to activate Kim, who once ranked among the game's top closers before he abruptly lost his effectiveness at the end of last season. But team officials have seen him improve while he has pitched in the bullpen as he recovered from a strained hip flexor he suffered in his final outing for Pawtucket Sept. 6.
"We've been talking about ways to get him back on track," general manager Theo Epstein said. "We have a goal of 2005 in mind, but he's been making a lot of progress. I wouldn't rule out him potentially helping out in 2004."
Kim, who threw about 30 pitches in the bullpen before last night's game, is due to work in the pen again before tomorrow's game.
"I'm feeling better," Kim said, joking that his fastball topped out higher than 100 miles per hour, before he declined to answer additional questions.
The Sox are monitoring Kim's attitude as well as his pitching. He alienated many teammates in his previous stints by giving the impression he was more concerned with himself than the team. In fact, a number of players lobbied Sox management against activating Kim this season for fear it could upset the team's chemistry.
"We were primarily working on him physically, trying to get him back to good health," Epstein said. "There was also an additional component about being a good teammate and being responsible for his performance. He's improved in both areas."
Kim played a key role last year in helping the Sox reach the postseason by stabilizing the bullpen after the Diamondbacks sent him to Boston May 31 for Shea Hillenbrand. But Kim developed shoulder soreness late in the season and has yet to fully regain the ability to throw his fastball with the adequate velocity and movement. He went 2-6 with a 5.34 ERA in 22 appearances for Pawtucket after going 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA in three starts for the Red Sox.
Pitching coach Dave Wallace indicated Kim's bullpen session went reasonably well, and manager Terry Francona was moderately impressed.
"The ball really was pretty lively," Francona said. "It came out of his hand real nice."
Francona, like Epstein, was noncommittal about Kim's immediate future. But at the very least, the Sox could benefit from Kim making a couple of decent outings down the stretch, perhaps improving his trade value. He is in the first season of a two-year, $10 million contract.
"We'll see how it goes," Francona said. "You hate to not try to get the most out of everybody."
A swell feeling
After receiving an encouraging diagnosis and a cortisone shot from his surgeon in Arizona, Bill Mueller rejoined the team and said he would return to the lineup as soon as possible from a right knee injury. He appeared likely to miss the Yankee series but could return to action early next week.
"It's that time of the year when you get a little nutty," Mueller said about returning quickly from an injury. "So we'll evaluate it one day at a time and go from there."
Mueller, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee in May, was close to fully regaining his health when he suffered a setback Sept. 10 in Seattle sliding to catch a foul ball by Greg Dobbs.
"I banged it pretty good and it caused some swelling," Mueller said. "When you've already had an injury in that area, you get a little sensitive about it when you start getting a little ache and a little pain. You want to get it checked out to make sure everything is OK structurally, which it is."
Mueller was icing and resting the knee in addition to letting the cortisone treat the inflammation. But as much as the Sox would have liked him in the lineup -- he has hit .412 with four homers and 11 RBIs against the Yankees this year -- Mueller recognized the importance of maintaining his patience.
"I'm not even thinking about that at all," he said of his success against the Yankees. "I'm just trying to get better first."
With Mueller out, Kevin Youkilis made his third straight start at third base.
Home run not
When is a home run not a home run? Manny Ramirez found out in the first inning when his 42d home run trot of the season went for naught. After third base umpire Tim Timmons ruled Ramirez's drive down the left-field line off Orlando Hernandez in the first inning landed fair, Ramirez happily passed through a group of protesting Yankees as he rounded third base. But the protestors prevailed as Timmons was corrected by his colleagues, who noted that the ball curled foul before reaching the pole. After Francona argued in vain, Ramirez settled for a walk . . . For the first time, the Sox plan to go with three former Gold Glovers in the infield today behind Derek Lowe: first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, second baseman Pokey Reese, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Lowe is 7-3 with a 4.12 ERA since the All-Star break and has held batters to a .224 average in September. Lowe, who is 2-2 with a 7.08 ERA this year against the Yankees, is scheduled to face Jon Lieber, who has no decisions and a 4.91 ERA in two starts this season against the Sox . . . David Ortiz is 10 extra-base hits shy of setting the franchise record for a season. He has 83 hits for extra bases as he closed in on Jimmie Foxx's record of 92 in 1938 . . . The Sox improved to 9-5 against the Yankees and won for the 19th time in 23 games . . . Their 33-11 record is the best in the majors since Aug. 1 . . . Both teams were warned after Mariano Rivera hit Kevin Millar with a pitch in the ninth inning (Bronson Arroyo had plunked Miguel Cairo in the third) . . . Jason Giambi extended his career-worst hitless streak to 0 for 32 . . . The Sox have cut their ties with Single A Augusta and plan to announce a new affiliation next week.