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Nixon hurting but succeeding

He's hitting well despite leg injury

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Something is ailing Trot Nixon. Question is: What exactly?

If this were the NHL playoffs, his problem would be assigned the designation ''lower-body injury." This is baseball, though, which usually lends itself to a disclosure about what's hurting someone. That isn't the case with Nixon, the Red Sox right fielder, who entered last night's game at Oakland hitting .337, sixth in the American League.

Nixon told the Boston Herald Monday that he'll need surgery following the season to repair an undisclosed leg injury. Nixon, usually accommodating to the media, refused a group interview yesterday. When approached again later, he said he wouldn't be discussing his injury at any point this season. He also said the decision to not discuss his injury was his and not that of general manager Theo Epstein, who has adopted a less-is-more policy when it comes to disclosing injuries.

The only clues to what might be ailing Nixon were a few electronic patches he wore above his left knee as he sat in his clubhouse chair before yesterday's game at McAfee Coliseum.

''I'm going to ask you guys to talk to Trot about that," said manager Terry Francona, who is caught between the wishes of management and the player when it comes to disclosing injuries. ''It's medical. We need to be careful on medical. Again, I'm trying to respect his privacy medically."

Nixon, in the Monday report, said he doesn't envision a disabled list visit but believes he will need to be operated on at season's end, which is at least 4Æ months away.

''I was a little surprised to see that," Francona said. ''I'd let you ask him that. I think that's the best way for me to handle that."

Nixon entered last night third in the AL in on-base percentage (.444), behind only Texas's David Dellucci (.463) and Baltimore's Brian Roberts (.460). His .337 average trailed only Carlos Guillen (.383), Roberts (.382), teammate Johnny Damon (.372), Shea Hillenbrand, and Ichiro Suzuki (.349).

Nixon's 21 walks tied for sixth in the AL, and his walk-to-strikeout ratio (1.40) ranked third. In the AL only Chicago's Scott Podsednik and Dellucci were walking more while striking out less.

That's reflected in Nixon's on-base percentage, which is now an even .400 since the beginning of the 2003 season. In 688 at-bats since the start of 2003 Nixon is a .313 hitter with 40 home runs, 134 RBIs, and a .400 OBP. By comparison, between 1996 and 2002, he hit .271 with an OBP of .359.

It's easy, then, to overlook the fact that he's hurting. When he was hurt isn't obvious. One possibility is May 8. That was the rainy day of the doubleheader vs. Seattle at Fenway. Nixon came up limping in the sixth inning of the second game of that doubleheader.

While playing right field Nixon had to turn, run, and make a leaping, over-the-shoulder snare of a Richie Sexson liner. Nixon landed and took a few long steps to decelerate as he slowed to a stop at the wall. He came up clutching the lower left side of his back but said that day he was not hurt. Manny Ramirez pinch hit for Nixon the next inning, and Jay Payton assumed Nixon's spot in right field in the top of the eighth.

Nixon hit a grand slam in the top of the seventh Saturday in Seattle, vaulting the Sox to a 6-3 win. But Nixon was replaced by Payton in right field in the bottom half of the inning.

Asked if Payton subbing for Nixon late in games will be a regular occurrence, Francona said, ''I guess the best way to say it is, we monitor everybody. If somebody needs three innings off, a day off, anybody, we'll do it. It's no different for Trot to anybody else.

''You guys see him hobbling. I want to help him wherever I can. He's able to be productive, and I guess the best thing to say is we communicate with all these guys. We try to do the best thing for the player, the organization."

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