Face it, Youkilis continues to be a tough out
Kevin Youkilis can keep on hitting, David Ortiz said, but the beard has to go.
"The beard is too ugly," said Ortiz, who returned to the Red Sox lineup last night after a three-game absence. "You tell him I said so."
Youkilis, meanwhile, extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a third-inning single off Indians starter Paul Byrd. His streak is the second longest in the majors this season, one game behind that of Torii Hunter of the Twins. Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners matched Hunter's 23-game streak last night as Seattle played in Anaheim, Calif., against the Angels.
"Be aggressive, but you've got to be patient," Youkilis said of his approach at the plate, and while he may sound like he's contradicting himself, that's not the case. "Be ready to attack," he said, offering a variation on a theme, "but be patient."
Youkilis last season saw 4.42 pitches per plate appearance, the most in the American League. This season, the number has dropped to 4.07, meaning he is not taking pitchers into as many deep counts. That does not mean, however, he is swinging at more first pitches. In fact, Youkilis is swinging at fewer first pitches this season (20 out of 220, or 9 percent), than he did last season (78 out of 683, or 11.4 percent).
Where Youkilis has shown dramatic improvement is in his ability to hit with two strikes. He began last night with a .343 average, third best in the AL and 65 points better than Mike Lowell, the next-highest Sox hitter at .278. Last season, Youkilis led the Sox with a .246 average with two strikes.
"The season's not over," manager Terry Francona said when the praise for Youkilis started getting too thick. "Play the games. You don't know where the guy's going to end up. But he's a terrific hitter. There's no getting around it. He is a good, young, maturing hitter in a really good groove."
Ortiz said the flu symptoms that caused him so much distress actually began during the previous homestand, the Tigers series.
"I didn't want to say anything to anybody, but that's why I didn't play in the second game of the [May 17] doubleheader," he said. "Did you see my face that weekend walking through the clubhouse? I was hurting."
Ortiz said his hamstrings, which had become sore from dehydration, felt much better last night, though he said he had not done the normal running he would do during batting practice.
Ortiz is in the longest home run drought of his career. He has gone 16 games and 56 at-bats without a homer. His last home run came May 9 in Toronto, off Josh Towers.
As Epstein noted, the Sox have found some good players in that range: Jon Lester in 2002 (57th overall), Dustin Pedroia in 2004 (65th), and, in 2005, pitchers Clay Buchholz (42d) and Michael Bowden (47th).
The Sox' big spending last winter on big league free agents, Epstein said, has no impact on the resources they allot for the draft.
"The most important dollars we spend are on building a productive farm system," Epstein said. "Nothing we do on the big league level ever gets in the way of our investment in the future."
"Daniel is set to throw five innings in extended [today], and we are going to reevaluate it after that outing," said Mike Hazen, the team's director of player development.
The leading options would appear to be sending him to Greenville, a lower Single A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, or keeping him in extended spring until short-season Single A Lowell begins play in mid-June. The team's other No. 1 pick last season, outfielder Jason Place (27th overall), is playing at Greenville.