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Youkilis: Fighting spirit

He may be coming out of his second-half slump

CHICAGO -- The evidence may not yet be persuasive in the box score, but there are signs Kevin Youkilis's offensive free fall is abating. Given his nature, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him out in full uniform helping the grounds crew roll the tarp off the diamond at U.S. Cellular Field, just so he could get some more hacks while he's feeling better at the plate.

Youkilis would have embraced the extra swings, but last night's game was postponed by rain. The Red Sox and White Sox will play a doubleheader today (2 and 8 p.m.)

Youkilis had hits in each of the three games in Tampa Bay, including two doubles, and hit six line drives the last two games, two to the center-field track, where they were caught.

Youkilis's batting average is still dropping -- he's down to .288, the lowest it has been since he was batting .287 May 6, and 70 percentage points below his high-water mark of .358 May 29.

He also has struck out at least once in each of his last 14 games, 20 times in all, including three-K performances against the Devil Rays Aug. 14 and the Angels Aug. 19, both at Fenway Park. His average in that span is .154 (8 for 52), and he has had only two extra-base hits and two RBIs.

The dramatic difference in his performance before and after the All-Star break -- .328, 9 home runs, 44 RBIs before, .209, 3, 19 afterward -- recalls the dropoff in his production last year in his first full season (.297, 10, 43 in the first half, .258, 3, 29 in the second), which he attributed to injuries, including a painful case of plantar fasciitis.

Injuries do not appear to be the issue this season. Fatigue is taking a toll -- a byproduct, manager Terry Francona said, of the way Youkilis approaches the game.

"He lives and dies with every at-bat," said Francona, which isn't revelatory for those who watch Youkilis bang his helmet after making an out, or cradle his head in his hands in disbelief when a bid for extra bases expires in an outfielder's glove, or when an umpire rings him up. "We've talked to him about it, but it's just the way he plays the game."

Coming into the season, Youkilis pledged to make an effort to modulate his emotions, but it clearly has been a struggle. When a player has advanced to this stage on the basis of maximum effort every second he is on the field, it's no easy thing to turn off. If Youkilis played the outfield, no wall would be safe.

"We have to grind every day," Youkilis had said about players of his ilk. "My whole life I was always just playing for the day, because I've always felt I didn't know what tomorrow would bring."

Youkilis said he realized that as a matter of surviving a 162-game season, he would have to temper that approach. So far, it would seem, he's fighting a losing battle.

Perhaps the Sox erred, when J.D. Drew floundered in the No. 5 hole, in delegating that responsibility to Youkilis, because, Francona said, he was one of those batters who could hit regardless of where he is in the lineup. The splits suggest otherwise. Youkilis is batting .309 with 9 home runs and 36 RBIs in the No. 2 hole, .217 with a home run and 15 RBIs in the No. 5 hole.

He has not gone deep since Aug. 6, which would not be consequential except for the fact the Sox have three regulars who have not homered this month: Drew (last home run June 20), Coco Crisp (July 5), and Julio Lugo (July 20). Even Manny Ramírez has not hit a home run since Aug. 5 at Seattle, a span of 60 at-bats.

The Yankees began the day with 36 home runs this month; the Sox have hit 13. Among American League teams, only the Blue Jays (11) and Twins (7) began the day with fewer.

Youkilis has taken a beating in some odd ways this month: He was struck in the face by a throw while stealing second in Anaheim, Calif.; he was struck in the side of the head by a throw from the outfield against the Angels while sliding into third; and he narrowly avoided being speared by the jagged edge of a broken bat last weekend.

"I've gone through some weird things," he said. "It's been frustrating. But maybe with a couple of hits dropping in, things may start turning my way.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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