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Strong feeling that Wakefield will go Monday

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 17, 2009

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Tim Wakefield met with manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein, pitching coach John Farrell, and team medical director Thomas Gill yesterday in an effort to determine a course of action for the knuckleballer. The problem is that the strength deficit in Wakefield’s legs has been getting worse.

“As long as it’s staying steady, we were a little more comfortable,’’ said Francona. “As it decreases, that is a concern.’’

It was determined that Wakefield will continue to work toward a start Monday in Kansas City.

“The meeting we had, basically, was to determine whether or not it was safe for me to continue to pitch because my strength has gone down,’’ Wakefield said before the Red Sox’ dramatic 9-8 win over the Angels last night. “We wanted to get everybody together and decided, you know, am I throwing another side [tomorrow], see how it feels from there? As of now, I’m planning on pitching.’’

Wakefield seemed confident that he can pitch without doing more damage to the fragmented disk in his back. He already has had three cortisone shots to deal with the pain. Wakefield has made just two starts since the All-Star break, the most recent Sept. 5 against the White Sox.

Wakefield will almost certainly have surgery in the offseason, a procedure that is expected to cost him only a couple of weeks and will not put spring training in jeopardy, if the 43-year-old decides to return.

“Rest, I’m sure, helps,’’ Francona said. “I can’t imagine pitching being real good for it. But again, we’ve been over all the options. I don’t think it needs repeating. Trying to stay on top of it as much as we can and just make sure everybody’s on the same page, and we’ll make our decisions.’’

Aching back
While Kevin Youkilis was wondering where the rumors of him having kidney stones started - it happened to be with his manager - the first baseman was forthcoming yesterday about the back spasms that are the reason he has missed the first two games of the series.

“I’ve had back spasms every year,’’ he said. “At some point you get them and they go away. Hopefully it will go away and I’ll be good to go tomorrow.’’

Youkilis has experienced discomfort in the “kidney area of my back,’’ starting on Monday’s off day. He said he had “mild ones for a couple of days and then finally it just got worse and worse and got tighter.’’

The Sox did get some good news, as Victor Martinez is expected to return to the lineup today after dealing with a family matter in Cleveland.

But Youkilis’s availability is uncertain - not that he expects to be out for an extended period.

“It’s a long season,’’ Youkilis said. “Things happen. I get this once a year, this one little thing. I was close to not having it this year and it happened. It’s one of those things where it could take just a couple of days and hopefully it’s better and makes progress each day.’’

Rotating his body is the biggest problem. Youkilis isn’t losing sleep, but the spasms are limiting his range of motion.

“If they’re very bad, they could go for two or three or four or five days,’’ he said. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone. That’s the key. Once it gets loose, I’ll be ready to go.’’

Switch for hitters
Jason Bay batted third for the fifth time this season, with Mike Lowell taking over the cleanup spot for the fourth time this year . . . David Ortiz’s home run Tuesday night put him ahead of Frank Thomas for the all-time lead as a designated hitter with 270. “Lot of guys can’t do it or they’re not comfortable doing it,’’ Francona said of being a DH. “Even some guys on days off don’t want the day off to do that; they don’t know what to do with themselves. There’s not a lot of guys in the league - I haven’t checked lately - that are full-time DHs.’’ . . . In 2007, when it was easy to dream about the impact Clay Buchholz might have in the postseason, the Red Sox did the prudent thing. He reached the maximum number of innings they wanted him to throw, and they shut him down. This year, Buchholz has another chance to make his postseason debut. Despite throwing more innings than he has in any other year, Buchholz feels strong and will not be limited. “I don’t think there’s any caution flags that have been thrown out right now,’’ he said. “They haven’t mentioned anything to me about it. I think if that’s the case, if I was getting close, I think they would take me out in the fifth or sixth inning. I feel strong. I think we’re going more on how my body feels than anything.’’ Buchholz has thrown 20 more innings, including in the minors, than in any other season, and 35 more than last season. “I haven’t even thought about it,’’ he said. “I definitely don’t want to be sitting out for that reason. I feel good about how my body feels.’’

Jed Lowrie could have been forgiven for having a flashback. Sure, it was the playoffs. Sure, he was batting lefthanded, against Scot Shields. But Lowrie was in the batter’s box, facing the Angels at a crucial time, and coming through. It was last October, when Lowrie clinched the Division Series with an RBI single in the ninth inning, knocking the Angels out of the playoffs.

The stakes weren’t nearly as high last night when he came to the plate, but it was just as important for him to come through. The Red Sox were down by a run with two outs in the ninth and two men on, and Lowrie lashed a grounder down the third base line that was stabbed by Chone Figgins. But Figgins couldn’t make an out, loading the bases loaded. Two batters later, the Sox had a 9-8 win.

It was Lowrie’s first big league at-bat since Aug. 6.

“We wanted to get him in a situation where you get righthanded,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “They get to [Brian ] Fuentes, so we know they’re staying with him. That was an unbelievable play. That ball looks like it’s got a chance to if not score a run, maybe score both. He launches himself and keeps it in the infield, you’re trying to curb your excitement a little bit and stay with it.’’

“Tito gave me the opportunity to be a situation to get a big hit,’’ Lowrie said. “Figgins made a great play, and we were able to pull it out . . . I know I can play at this level, and it does help to be able to draw back on situations like that [in the ALDS]. But just going up there and having the opportunity to succeed is really what drove me to be successful in that situation.’’

Lowrie has spent this season battling his left wrist injury, and has played in just 21 games after having a chance to win the starting shortstop job in spring training. He has instead spent his season in the minors, through Pawtucket and Portland and Fort Myers and Lowell, trying to make it back to the majors before the end of the year.

“I realized the situation and I know what’s going on,’’ Lowrie said. “It’s hard not to recognize that when everyone at Fenway’s on their feet. You’d be a robot if you didn’t recognize that. Once you get in the box it kind of goes back to, ‘Let’s get this job done.’ ’’

Passing glance
Not only did Alex Gonzalez have the winning single, he got his first walk since joining the Sox in August. Gonzalez earned his free pass in the eighth inning, before a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI single that tied the game at 8-8. His teammates, understanding the situation, handed Gonzalez the ball. “I think he feels good about himself,’’ Francona said. “You can see him having fun playing. He doesn’t show a ton of emotion, but you can tell he’s really enjoying himself and I think the more you succeed in those situations, the confidence level certainly does rise.’’ Gonzalez is batting .333 (20 for 60) with 11 RBIs in his last 18 games.

Picking up spare
Jason Varitek was spared some blame for a passed ball in the seventh inning that allowed the Angels to score four unearned runs. With one out, Takashi Saito hit Vladimir Guerrero in the ribs with a pitch. (Guerrero later left the game with a bruised rib cage.) Saito was removed for Ramon Ramirez, who got the second out immediately. Then, on a two-strike slider that got Kendry Morales swinging, the ball got by Varitek, allowing Morales to reach and Guerrero to advance to third. That was followed by a single and two doubles. “It was a slider that kind of broke the other direction,’’ Varitek said. “His slider, we were trying to go back foot, it kind of back-ended a little bit. It kind of turned inside the ball, and it just hit off the end of the glove.’’ . . . Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable after having slipped in the bullpen Tuesday night and tweaked his back. Papelbon said there was tightness, but the injury was minor . . . Sox starters have allowed three runs or fewer in each of the last nine games, having gone 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA . . . Saito became the fifth Sox pitcher to appear in at least 50 games in one season, the second time in team history that has happened (1991).

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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