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Trying to get back in swing

Ramírez, Youkilis are slated for BP

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There is no game scheduled today for the Red Sox, but it won't be an offday for everyone. Manager Terry Francona said Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramírez will come out to Fenway Park today to take batting practice. Youkilis has missed the last seven games with inflammation in his right wrist; Ramírez hasn't played in the last 24 games because of a strained left oblique.

Unless he goes on the mother of hot streaks and hits 10 home runs and drives in 14 runs on the team's final homestand, one of Ramírez's most impressive streaks, hitting 30 or more home runs and driving in 100 or more runs in nine consecutive seasons, will end. Only two players in history have had longer such streaks: Jimmie Foxx, who did it 12 consecutive seasons, and Alex Rodriguez, who began his streak the same season (1998) that Ramirez did but already has made it 10 in a row.

Francona is beyond predicting when Ramírez, who has been taking batting practice for the last week and a half, will return. "He said he had a better day," Francona said of Ramírez's work before Saturday's game. "He seems real upbeat, but he's not ready to play."

Youkilis has not yet hit in the cage since being hit by a pitch by Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees Sept. 15 - he underwent an additional MRI late last week that confirmed there was no fracture - but Francona was pessimistic about putting him in the lineup tomorrow night against Oakland.

"I don't know," he said. "I'd love for him to play, but I would say, probably not."

Young blood

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who was hit in the right foot by a pitch Friday night, then went 0 for 5 Saturday, was given the day off by Francona. It was only the third time this season Pedroia has taken an 0 for 5; in the last week, he has 3 hits in 23 at-bats, dropping his average from .324 to .315. That matches the lowest his average has been since July 31, when he was hitting .313. "He's a little beat up," Francona said. "It's good for him not to play."

While Pedroia rested, his primary competition for the Rookie of the Year award, Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young, completed a big weekend here with a single, double, and two-run home run, two runs scored, and a stolen base. Young, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft, batted .500 (6 for 12) against the Sox over the weekend, improving his average to .294. He has played in all 156 of Tampa Bay's games, and leads all major league rookies in hits (183), RBIs (93), doubles (38), and multi-hit games (54). He also has 16 assists in the outfield, third most in the majors.

"You put the whole picture together, you tie this whole thing into a nice little bundle, I think it equals Rookie of the Year," said one biased observer, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, after the game. "Everybody just wants to talk about offense. Talk about his defense, his stolen bases this year. He's a very good baserunner. He's playing a complete game for us right now.

"I have to believe based on all of that, I think he's the award winner this year. I really do. He should be the award winner. He plays every day. He's going to play 162 games this year. Sometimes people overlook that as being important. Whenever you can rely on one guy to go out there every day to play the position at that level, it matters to the whole team. And he plays it fresh every day."

Maddon, when asked about Pedroia's performance, playing a key position for a division leader, said:

"Those are wonderful intangibles, and I think that's fabulous, but what it really comes down to his performance. You can't base it on the fact that you're in a city that media-wise generates more publicity. I think if you are really going to go after the guy that's most deserving based on the appropriate numbers, you have to give it to Delmon."

Fast improving

Jacoby Ellsbury, who already has stamped himself as a leading candidate for next year's award, stole his ninth base without being caught this season. What made it more impressive is that he succeeded even though the Devil Rays called a pitchout. Ellsbury has stolen against six catchers: Toronto's Gregg Zaun (3 times), Texas's Gerald Laird (on his first callup), Baltimore's Ramon Hernandez (twice), Yankees Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, and Tampa Bay's Raul Casanova. He also has stolen successfully against two lefthanded pitchers: Andy Pettitte, who is regarded as having one of the best moves in baseball, and Brian Burres of the Orioles.

One thing Ellsbury has not yet done is steal third base. The Sox were still talking yesterday about David Ortiz's attempt at doing so Saturday night with Mike Lowell at the plate in the first inning.

"I think he thought he was invisible," Francona said. "I haven't gotten around to talking to him about it. We don't need Maury Wills. We need David Ortiz. We'll stay with David.

"But I hope someone was advancing [scouting] us. That'll put a wrench in their report."

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

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