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Red Sox notebook

Showing some staying power

McDonald is on nice run at plate

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 20, 2011

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BALTIMORE - Darnell McDonald had a little fun before last night’s game against the Orioles, using his flip cam to interview a radio reporter who follows the team.

The Red Sox outfielder fired off a few questions, with teammate Jarrod Saltalamacchia offering some suggestions.

It has become a little easier for McDonald to smile lately. Entering last night’s game, he was 5 for 15 in his last six games with three extra-base hits, three walks, and seven RBIs. The mini-run boosted his batting average from .117 to .160.

“It’s a start,’’ he said. “At least I’m swinging the bat a little better now and feeling comfortable up there.’’

McDonald was a surprise contributor last season, hitting .270 with 9 home runs, 9 stolen bases, 12 sacrifice bunts, and 9 outfield assists. The Sox, looking to balance their roster, kept the righthanded hitter around for a second season.

But this year has been a challenge and has included a stint on the disabled list. But the Sox have stuck with McDonald, believing he has value.

“I think we would have made a mistake stopping playing him because he struggled for 25 at-bats, because he can help us,’’ manager Terry Francona said.

Francona believes showing patience with a slumping player is part of his job.

“You make a mistake if you don’t,’’ he said.

A career minor league journeyman, McDonald appreciates Francona’s faith.

“It’s on me because I’ve had the opportunities,’’ he said. “I think I’m getting there now. I’m swinging at better pitches and making better contact.’’

McDonald drew a walk and had a three-run double against the Orioles Monday night after entering the game as a pinch hitter. He has been used primarily against lefthanded pitchers.

“He’s starting to do a little better,’’ Francona said. “He’s going to have to fight looking up at the scoreboard and seeing his batting average being low. That’s a hard thing to do sometimes.’’

McDonald is not concerned about his statistics.

“I have to do something to help us win a game. I can’t make up for my batting average,’’ he said. “I know I can do the little things. Hopefully the way I feel now at the plate continues.’’

Buchholz takes it slow The slow return of Clay Buchholz from his back injury continues. He played catch from 120 feet Monday, felt no pain, and will repeat that workout today.

Francona said he hoped Buchholz would throw off the mound as early as Friday.

“We have some hurdles to get through but, still, he really did well,’’ Francona said. “The guys that were with him said that it looked like a normal day of long toss by a guy who feels good about himself.’’

But the righthander was more cautious in his assessment, saying it would depend how he feels.

“I think it’s still going to take a little bit of time,’’ Buchholz said. “But at the same time [Monday] was a good step in the right direction.’’

Pitching off the mound will be a true test for Buchholz. He doesn’t feel the injury until the follow through of his delivery on the down slope. In his last start, June 16, that caused him to alter his mechanics, which reduced the movement of his pitches.

“You have to be able to finish off all your pitches and extend,’’ he said. “That’s where it was bothering me.’’

Buchholz said his arm strength remains intact despite the layoff and once he takes the mound, he should progress quickly.

Hope for Jenks Bobby Jenks got an injection of platelet-rich plasma in his back Monday to try and speed the healing of the muscle injury that landed him on the DL.

Jenks has no structural damage, according to his latest examination. The Sox are waiting for his soreness to fade so he can start throwing again.

“We’ll see what kind of gains he starts making,’’ Francona said.

Jenks strained an intercostal muscle on the left side of his back June 7 while facing the Yankees. He returned to appear in four games then went back on the disabled list last week.

Musical DHs With David Ortiz suspended for three games, Francona is using the DH spot to give some positional players what amounts to half a day off. Jacoby Ellsbury was the DH Monday, a day after he had a busy night patrolling center field in the 16-inning game against the Rays. Carl Crawford had the job last night, his second game since coming off the DL, and was 0 for 4 in a 6-2 loss. Francona indicated that third baseball Kevin Youkilis could be the DH for this afternoon’s game . . . Jed Lowrie has started swinging at balls off a tee to test the strength in his left shoulder. He has been on the DL since June 17 . . . The Sox skipped BP again yesterday to give the players a little more time to recover from the 16-inning game on Sunday/Monday . . . Dustin Pedroia was 1 for 4, extending his hit streak to 17 games, matching his career high. He also has reached base safely in 29 consecutive games . . . Outfield prospect Ryan Kalish, out since April with shoulder and neck injuries, has started swinging a bat again and soon could be cleared to start playing in games.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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