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Drew has a hand in today

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / March 25, 2009
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TAMPA - J.D. Drew's eggplant-colored right hand is bruised on both sides, the result of a pitch that drilled him Friday. Ugly as it is, the good news is that Drew can see it - the contusion no longer requires a bandage.

Drew will return to the lineup today against the Cincinnati Reds in Sarasota, Fla., his first action since the plunking. He hit off a tee Monday and took batting practice yesterday. He feels the time he missed will not be an issue, that he has ample opportunity to get his timing down in the batter's box for the regular season.

"It's all headed in the right direction," Drew said. "I'm just trying to get out there and get at-bats. It shouldn't be a problem.

"I think now, more than anything, you're just trying to get your legs underneath you, get your body ready to go. It's a long year. You get more at-bats the first week of the season than you get all spring training."

Drew also said the injection he received in his lower back about a month ago has led to marked improvement. He missed more than 40 games at the end of last season with his ailing back and for a time thought it might keep him out of the playoffs. To nip the pain this year, Drew flew to Boston to receive a cortisonal injection in his facet joint. So far, it has worked.

"It's felt considerably better," Drew said. "There's only been a few days where I've actually felt a little bit stiff. I've had really good days consistently since I got it. So, hopefully, that being said, it'll continue to feel good."

Before being hit by the pitch, Drew had 26 plate appearances this spring in nine games. He felt "a little bit tired as far as the swing goes." He had just four hits (.200), but he also drew six walks, good for a .407 on-base percentage.

"I felt like I was seeing the ball well," Drew said. "I started off pretty well and went into a little bit of a dry spell there. That's kind of a good thing sometimes in spring training. You can be too hot, I think. You get to the start of the season and you get upset - you were hitting .430 leaving spring, you want to know why you can't get it to carry over.

"Spring is just a preparation for a long year."

Back in rotation
Daisuke Matsuzaka will return to the Red Sox this evening after his stellar performance in the World Baseball Classic. Matsuzaka repeated as MVP of the event as Japan repeated as champion. As long as everything goes as planned in his evaluation upon arriving at camp, he will pitch against Atlanta Tuesday, according to pitching coach John Farrell. The Sox hope to have him pitch an inning in a minor league game Friday, which would be on his normal rest. That would be a tuneup before he pitches against the Braves.

Smoltz fired up
John Smoltz will be in the Hall of Fame the moment is he eligible, so it's likely that the notion of throwing 30 pitches in a bullpen session has never invigorated him the way it will today at 9 a.m.

Smoltz's bullpen session - he'll throw 30-35 pitches at City of Palms Park - will be the most significant step in the rehab that he and the team hope will land him in the rotation roughly by the middle of May.

"He was telling me today, 'I won't sleep tonight,' " said manager Terry Francona. "He was bouncing off the walls.

"The reason we're saying 30 is because he's probably going to want to throw 100. He's excited because now it's real. It's scheduled. It's there."

Smoltz acknowledged that it was difficult to be patient, but he has dutifully stuck to the plan, even though, as Farrell said, he "could be doing more than he is right now."

Smoltz underwent major shoulder surgery last June.

"We felt our biggest challenge would be to hold him back," said Farrell, "but I tell you, to his credit, he has been completely committed to the plan that's been outlined.

"The biggest thing to look for will be how intense he'll be. His natural tendency is going to be to feel like games are getting closer. Natural adrenaline will come with his outing."

Good footing
Kevin Youkilis, who played Monday for the first time since injuring his left foot at the WBC, reported no problems. He will play today in Sarasota. "It definitely felt better," he said. "It's not 100 percent yet, but it'll get there." He said strength is the one piece he's missing for his foot to get back to 100 percent . . . Brad Penny also experienced no issues the day after his first start of the spring. "Everything's fine," Penny said, flashing a thumbs-up. Said Francona, "He's upbeat and he's feeling good about himself, as he should." . . . Mark Kotsay is "progressing real well" in his rehab from back surgery, Francona said. Kotsay has been playing catch, and he has been performing exercises that force him to rotate his back against resistance. His next step will be swinging a bat, likely within a week. . . . Francona joked that the grind of this longer-than-usual spring training might be getting to him. In the dugout before the game, Francona said, "Until about 30 minutes ago, I thought Youkilis was playing first base tonight." Youkilis had remained in Fort Myers.

Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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