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Red Sox notebook

For starters, a strong sign

Wakefield return a lift for rotation

By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / September 19, 2009

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BALTIMORE - Tim Wakefield will start Monday against the Royals, barring a poor performance in a strength test today, which will allow the Red Sox to rest Josh Beckett an extra day as the season steams toward the finish.

Wakefield threw 40 pitches in a side session yesterday and, “everything went fine,’’ he said. While still hobbled by a nerve issue in his back and left calf, Wakefield believes Monday’s start is definite. “In my mind,’’ he said, “yes.’’

The Sox will put Wakefield through physical tests today, which they anticipate will be mostly a formality. Manager Terry Francona said the Sox have a backup plan - Michael Bowden is one possibility - but Wakefield’s start is a virtual certainty.

“I think he actually felt some improvement over the other day,’’ Francona said. “We feel like Wake is going to be OK, or we really wouldn’t have done this. But I think we feel an obligation to check.’’

The Sox are in the middle of a season-ending stretch of 20 games in 20 days, which places a premium on lessening the workload of their most-used pitchers. Wakefield will help alleviate the issue for one start.

Wakefield will not be able to pitch every five days, likely requiring about 10 days of rest after his Monday outing. But his return will allow the Sox to give Beckett, who is approaching his career high for innings pitched, an extra day of rest.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations with especially he and [Jon ] Lester,’’ Francona said. “They’ve carried a big load. When we all feel like it’s in their best interest, I think we try to do it. We just think it’s a really good time to give him another day.’’

The rest may be particularly beneficial for Beckett. On four days’ rest this season, Beckett has been average: 6-5 with a 4.73 ERA and a .257 batting average against. On five days’ rest, has been outstanding: 8-0 with a 2.23 ERA and a .204 batting average.

Beckett’s career high for innings, set in 2006, is 204 2/3. He has thrown 201 1/3 innings this season. Lester has thrown 188 2/3 innings, close to his career-high of 210 1/3, set last year.

Paul Byrd, who pitched Wednesday night, will start Tuesday. The rotation for the next six days, starting tonight, is scheduled to be Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Byrd, Beckett, and Clay Buchholz.

Wakefield, an All-Star who is 11-4 with a 4.22 in 19 starts, last pitched Sept. 5 in Chicago. He has made only two starts since the All-Star break.

Ellsbury tweaks groin
Jacoby Ellsbury likely will play today after he tweaked his groin stealing second base in the first inning of last night’s 3-1 victory over the Orioles. Ellsbury remained in the game, wearing a wrap around his groin. Afterward, he applied ice.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll play [today],’’ Ellsbury said. “But it’s one of those things. You don’t know. But I’m pretty confident I’ll be in there tomorrow.’’

“If he wakes up [today] and he’s a little bit stiff, yeah, we won’t play him,’’ Francona said. “We’ll see how he does. I think he’s going to be OK.’’

As the Sox took the field one inning, Francona meant to check with Ellsbury about his groin, but missed him on his way out of the dugout. Francona instead walked to center field with trainer Paul Lessard.

“I just thought it would be bad if I didn’t check with him,’’ said Francona. “He said he was fine.’’

During at-bats after an 0-and-2 count, Ellsbury is batting .327, an astonishing figure, even to him. The league average is .178. Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners is second at .316.

“So maybe I should get into 0-2 counts,’’ Ellsbury said, laughing while he mimed his stance and looked at pretend pitches. “Just stand there. Strike. Strike.’’

Youkilis back in lineup
Kevin Youkilis returned to the lineup three days after back spasms forced him to the bench. Youkilis missed all three games of the series against the Angels with an ailment he said crops up once per season.

Youkilis said he felt no lasting effect from the spasms and he expected they would not be a problem again this season. Youkilis went 0 for 4, but he made a key play, charging a weak ground ball and getting the out to help stifle an Oriole rally in the fourth inning. He made a running, twisting throw, the kind of play he could not have made had his spasms been firing.

“I felt good out there,’’ Youkilis said. “It’s actually good to be playing. You get the blood flowing, the sweat flowing, that helps. When you’re not doing anything, that’s how you lock up.’’

Rolling right along
After making his first start in three months Tuesday night, Matsuzaka is going about his routine as usual. “Normal progression, just like everybody else,’’ Francona said. “I’d say that’s the whole idea.’’ . . . Francona sat Mike Lowell to rest him and to keep Casey Kotchman, who went 3 for 4, fresh. Lowell played three days in a row before the late-night travel Thursday . . . Shortstop Nick Green said his dead leg is feeling “a lot better,’’ but he still refrained from baseball activities before the game. He is unsure how the ailment, which affected him on a controversial, game-tying walk as a pinch hitter Wednesday, arose, but he has a theory. He began taking batting practice in the cage during games, and he thinks the extra work may have caused wear and tear . . . Jonathan Papelbon said his back, which held him out of Wednesday’s game, felt fine. He pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and notched his 37th save. He also made a nice save before the game. While shagging flies in the outfield, Papelbon saw a child struck by a ball hit into the seats. He walked to the dugout, requested a bag of ice from a clubhouse attendant, carried it to the outfield, and gave it to the child . . . Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold was placed on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left Achilles’ tendon, ending his rookie season.

Material from the Associated Press was used; Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com.

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