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On second thought: Youkilis

Francona gives him a try there

Yup, that was Kevin Youkilis, who made his major league debut at first base earlier this season, debuting at second base in the eighth inning last night. Youkilis made one play, on a ball up the middle, and flipped to Edgar Renteria to end the inning, drawing a hearty ''Youk" roar from the Fenway faithful.

Why play Youkilis at second?

''Why would I not?" asked Red Sox manager Terry Francona. ''He's a good hitter. It seems like a good idea. If this kid has the ability at some point, he's shown he can play first, if he can play second, I think we're remiss for not checking. He's been taking ground balls out there. I thought in a blowout game it was a good chance to get him out there."

But Youkilis probably won't take Ramon Vazquez's job as the club's utility infielder, because he isn't yet capable of starting at second (his manager's assessment) and he's never played shortstop in the big leagues.

''I thought it would do him some good to get out there for a couple innings," Francona said. ''He made a nice play. It's probably not so much making the plays as knowing where he is, a fly ball to right, he kind of went back and forth a little. It's still foreign to him. First base isn't that old to him [either]."

Youkilis said the only time he'd played second base was for nine innings in a Double A all-star game. He doesn't have great range, which makes second seem an odd fit.

But Francona said, ''I don't know that it's all about range. I've seen some really good infielders who don't have a lot of range. There's more to it than just catching ground balls. His bat potential is so good that we'll just try to explore everything."

Olerud's turn

John Olerud got the start at first base, and Kevin Millar will be there tonight, meaning that, since Olerud joined the Red Sox, the two will have alternated starts for five games.

With two more hits last night, Olerud is 5 for 11 (.455) with the Sox, while Millar is batting .243 with 2 home runs and 22 RBIs. Explaining to the media how much Olerud will play has become a daily thing for Francona, who said the Sox brought him in to play ''once or twice a week to give us a better team. I think I saw somewhere that Millar said that 'Olerud and Millar' are better than 'Millar.' "

The matchups last night dictated who started. Olerud was a .467 career hitter (7 for 15) against Baltimore starter Rodrigo Lopez, while Millar was at .179 (5 for 28). Tonight, Millar will start against Daniel Cabrera, a hard-throwing righthander.

''The harder they throw," Francona said, ''the better off Millar is. I don't care what side of the plate it is."

Olerud singled and doubled last night. The double was hit down the right-field line.

''I'm always thinking middle of the field," he said. ''I feel like this place can definitely help me. I've hit here many times, but I feel like I should have taken advantage of the Wall more than I have."

Return path

Following an MRI on Doug Mirabelli's sprained left wrist, Sox medical director Thomas Gill said the backup catcher could be swinging a bat in four or five days. ''He has almost no tenderness now," Gill said. ''He's been throwing. He's been catching. Toss catch, not bullpen catching. This week he's concentrating on strengthening his range of motion. If he looks good after four, five days we'll have him progress back into a batting regimen, hitting off a tee, soft tossing." Mirabelli is eligible to come off the disabled list Friday but is unlikely to be activated that day. ''I'm not a big fan of timetables," Gill said . . . Mark Bellhorn got a rest last night, giving Vazquez a rare start at second. The move made sense, given that Bellhorn was hitting .118 (2 for 17) against Lopez, while Vazquez was 2 for 4 against him. Vazquez was appearing in only his fourth game in 22 days . . . Among the many amazing stats to come out of the weekend series in New York: The Sox' 2-3-4 hitters -- Edgar Renteria, David Ortiz, and Ramirez -- went 25 for 39 at Yankee Stadium, with 5 HRs and 13 RBIs. Another fabulous factoid: Sox pitchers needed a season-low 100 pitches to complete Sunday's 7-2 win. David Wells threw 95 in 8 1/3 innings and Keith Foulke recorded the last two outs on five pitches.

Same time this year

Think Matt Clement is a better pitcher than he was last season? A year ago today, Clement had a 3.05 ERA with the Cubs. This season, Clement's ERA is 3.06. At the conclusion of May 2004, Clement was 6-3. He'll conclude this month 6-0. But in 2004, Clement went 3-10 after June 1. His ERA the last four months was adequate (4.03), but the team averaged just 3.6 runs per Clement start . . . As it stands, Clement is not scheduled to pitch against his former team during the Sox' visit to Wrigley Field June 10-12 . . . The Sox will learn today whether catcher Shawn Wooten cleared waivers. If he did, he'll return to Triple A Pawtucket. But he could be claimed. One team in need of catching help: Seattle . . . Still no word on how much Renteria paid Wells for jersey No. 3. ''If I tell you, the IRS will be in here," Wells said. Market value these days can be pretty high, according to a recent story in The New York Times about the buying and selling of uniform numbers. In 1991, John Kruk swapped his No. 28 to Mitch Williams in Philadelphia for two cases of beer. By 1993, Rickey Henderson paid Blue Jays teammate Turner Ward $25,000 for No. 24. Last year, Atlanta's Brian Jordan bought third base coach Fredi Gonzalez a $40,000 motorcycle in exchange for No. 33. However, according to one Sox player close to Renteria, Wells didn't demand any money for the right to No. 3 . . . Manny Ramirez had two assists last night. He nailed David Newhan at the plate to end the second inning and threw out Melvin Mora at third by a wide margin in the ninth. Ramirez leads the Sox with six outfield assists, though he's aided by playing the shortest left field in baseball.

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