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McDonald earned a winter vacation

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 10, 2010

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Darnell McDonald played winter ball in Mexico last year. In previous years, he had gone to Venezuela. But when this season ends, the only place he is heading is home to Arizona to spend time with his family.

The 31-year-old outfielder, a journeyman minor leaguer for most of his career, has played in 102 games and had 318 plate appearances for the Red Sox this season. He is going to relax and enjoy his success this time.

“I still sit back once in a while and think that I played in Yankee Stadium for the Red Sox and faced Mariano Rivera,’’ McDonald said. “That is pretty special. I’ve said this before: It has been a dream come true to be in the big leagues for an entire season.’’

McDonald is hitting .276 with a .346 on-base percentage, both well above the league average. Only five players on the roster have been in more games than he has.

“This year has allowed me to relax and play my game,’’ McDonald said. “I’ve always thought I could play at this level. It’s satisfying to be able to prove it.’’

The Sox nearly designated McDonald for assignment in late May but decided at the last second to keep him on the roster when Jacoby Ellsbury reported that he was unable to play through the pain of fractured ribs and returned to the disabled list.

McDonald has been secure since. Now he is hoping the Sox will offer him a contract for next season.

“I know how the game works better than anybody,’’ he said. “But they gave me a chance to play here and I like it here.’’

General manger Theo Epstein did not discount the idea.

“Sometimes for a player like Darnell, who has ability, having the confidence of the organization and the manager can make a difference,’’ said Epstein. “He has been a very valuable player for us, somebody we hit on by bringing him in.’’

Rookie ball
With the Sox facing fellow noncontenders in Oakland and Seattle on this trip, Terry Francona may feel comfortable using more rookies in the lineup.

Against contenders, most teams try to use their best lineups to maintain the integrity of the pennant race. For the next six games, however, there could be extra at-bats for players such as Yamaico Navarro, Josh Reddick, and Lars Anderson. Francona also might be more willing to see what his rookie pitchers can do.

“Some of that’s going to depend on the health of our team, who we’re playing, how we’re playing,’’ said the manager. “Always try to do what’s right for the organization. Regardless of who plays, we’re going to try and win. This isn’t Triple A. I’m not crazy. We want to see some of the younger guys play a little bit. We’ll see.’’

At the same time, Francona wants to strike a balance.

“Guys that have played all year and given at times more than they should, you don’t just sweep them to the side and [say], ‘Thanks for the effort,’ ’’ he said.

Papelbon ready to go
Jonathan Papelbon threw 48 pitches Sunday and has not pitched since, but he was available Tuesday. “He was doing well, which is good,’’ said Francona. “I think that shows he has worked hard. To bounce back from something like that is not easy to do. We were very encouraged by that. We did not feel the need to pitch him.’’ Those 48 pitches were the most Papelbon has thrown in 322 career relief appearances . . . Jeremy Hermida, who was released by the Sox Aug. 31, signed with Oakland and played three games for Triple A Sacramento before being called up Tuesday. Hermida is 1 for 5 with a walk in two games with the Athletics. The 26-year-old outfielder hit just .203 with 5 home runs and 27 RBIs for the Sox after being obtained from the Marlins last winter. Oakland also has former Sox righthander Boof Bonser in its bullpen. He has a 3.29 ERA in five games since being called up July 31. Bonser pitched in two games for the Sox in June before being designated for assignment and released.

Fox claimed from Twins
The Sox made another roster move, claiming righthander Matt Fox off waivers from the Twins. Fox is expected to join the team in Oakland today. The Sox created room on the 40-man roster by moving Mike Cameron (abdominal surgery) to the 60-day disabled list. “He commands his fastball to both sides of the plate, has an interesting cutter and curveball, and was effective against righthanded hitters,’’ Epstein said. Fox, who turns 28 in December, appeared in 35 games for Triple A Rochester this season, going 6-9 with a 3.95 ERA. Fox was called up by the Twins and started against the Rangers last Friday, allowing two runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. But the Twins designated him for assignment Sunday to make room on their 40-man roster for outfielder Ben Revere.

Drew hanging in
J.D. Drew was replaced by a pinch runner in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s game when the coaches noticed him stretching his left hamstring. “I appreciate the few innings off,’’ Drew said. “It has been killing me for a while now.’’ Drew said the strain, which is on the lower part of his hamstring, affects him mostly when he runs the bases.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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