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Youkilis shipped out; Neal stays

Someone had to go last night, with Curt Schilling coming off the disabled list, and that player was Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket and will join the PawSox tomorrow. The decision figured to come down to Youkilis or reliever Blaine Neal. Neal, though, is out of options, meaning he would have had to clear waivers to be reassigned to Pawtucket.

Another reason behind the decision: The Sox last night began a stretch of 28 games in 29 days and would like to have 12 pitchers at their disposal, especially with David Wells scuffling and Schilling's durability something of an unknown.

"We weren't comfortable right now with 11 pitchers," said manager Terry Francona. "That's part of it. I've had some reservations about Youk. We love the kid. Love the player, but I don't want to do this kid harm [by not playing him]."

Youkilis had appeared in only one game -- going 1 for 2 with a walk -- and needs more at-bats at this stage in his career, Francona said.

"The way the season was unfolding I was worried about him," the skipper said. "He did nothing to dampen our opinion of him as a player. He's going to be back. This isn't season-long. He knows that."

Youkilis, who lives in downtown Boston, said he will commute each day to Pawtucket.

Peachy in Georgia
Wade Miller went 4 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits, a walk, and four strikeouts for Class A Greenville yesterday in his first rehab start. He threw 73 pitches and, according to Francona, got his velocity above 90.

"His outing was far more good than bad," Francona said. "He had a real good breaking ball. He was living around 88-89, which isn't where he will be but it was pretty good."

Miller is expected to pitch Monday, though two key details -- where and for which minor-league team -- have yet to be finalized. Weather was the foremost consideration in yesterday's start, as the team considered pitching Miller in Double A Portland but opted not to because of cold and possibly wet weather.

Miller, who is recovering from a frayed rotator cuff, figures to make two or three more rehab starts. He's limited to a 30-day rehab assignment, meaning he has to be activated by mid-May.

"I don't think getting stretched out is the issue," Francona said. "It's velocity, command, pitching with confidence, not hurting himself."

Arroyo on deck
Bronson Arroyo draws Randy Johnson tonight. Another sidebar promises to be his showdowns with Alex Rodriguez, who slapped Arroyo's glove in October and who took exception to being hit with a pitch last July 24, inciting a brawl. Arroyo said Rodriguez probably thought he was hit on purpose because Arroyo went inside on consecutive pitches, which is not his style. Asked if he has doubled up inside much this season, Arroyo smiled and said, "No, but this is a totally different team. At some point [tonight] I will." . . . ESPN analysts John Kruk and Harold Reynolds criticized Derek Lowe's decision to wear a Sox jersey during Monday's ring ceremony, saying it was inappropriate because Lowe is now a Dodger. "Rather than give it validity, chalk it up to someone having a job to do, someone take this side, someone take that side," Francona said. "It was idiotic. I love Kruk. I golf with him. He's paid to have an opinion." . . . How often will Johnny Pesky be in a Sox uniform this season? "If I stay alive, I think I'll be here every day," said the energetic Pesky. Pesky's favorite moment during Monday's festivities? Being kissed by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz . . . Doug Mirabelli's homer Monday gave the Sox a 29-16 home run edge in the 20 regular-season games the Sox and Yankees have played at Fenway since the beginning of 2003. Before that the Yankees had outhomered the Sox, 36-6, in the 26 regular-season games between 2000 and 2002.

Diamond rough
The Red Sox attempted to get "Sweet Caroline" singer Neil Diamond for Monday's home opener. "We pursued relentlessly," Charles Steinberg, the Sox' executive vice president/public affairs, said in an email. "Cost was not an issue. He wasn't available. My how we tried! And we still will!" . . . Did Rodriguez hear the repeated fan chants of "A-Rod, A-Rod" directed at him Monday, when his fourth-inning error led to three unearned runs? "I did hear it," Rodriguez told reporters. "I was a huge Mets fan growing up. It reminded me of the World Series when they used to call `Darryl, Darryl' [at Darryl Strawberry]. That's the only thing that went through my mind. And I chuckled." . . . Ramon Vazquez started at second, giving Mark Bellhorn a night off. Bellhorn is 0 for 10 against Yankees starter Jaret Wright . . . The Double A Portland Sea Dogs entered last night 5-0, their pitching staff having thrown 22 consecutive scoreless innings. Their staff ERA was 1.40, the lowest in professional baseball . . . Courtesy of statistician Chuck Waseleski: The Sox and Yankees are the only teams yet to allow a first-inning run.

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