The Red Sox are playing without Kevin Youkilis, the league's leading hitter, and Dustin Pedroia, the reigning AL MVP tonight. The prognosis on Pedroia, whose strained groin improved so much that he'll be available off the bench in an emergency tonight, was more definite and optimistic than was Youkilis's.
Youkilis took live batting practice for the first time since he first sat out, but the Red Sox still didn’t know when he will return. They wanted to see how his oblique area felt after the session. The Red Sox expected Youkilis to miss a matter of days, and manager Terry Francona is still hopeful Youkilis will avoid the disabled list. But Youkilis has already missed eight days.
“It’s been more of a week-to-week,” Francona said. “We keep day-to-day-ing it, but what we don’t want to do is put him in for an at-bat [and] turn it into three weeks or four weeks when it could be 10 days. We’re trying not to react too quickly. It’s not cut and dry. We’re just trying to use patience. It’s not an exact science. If we ever make a mistake, we want to react on the side of caution.”
Francona kept Pedroia out of the lineup more for precautionary reasons.
“Everything really is good,” Francona said. “He actually reported in way better than what we probably expected. He wanted to play tonight. That, to me, is the best sign of all.”
Pedroia’s improved health offered hope that the Sox’ health woes may finally be ending. Jacoby Ellsbury missed two games after he hurt his hamstring diving for a ball, and he said yesterday he still receives treatment for the ailment. “It’s one of those things that doesn’t go away right away,” he said.
David Ortiz was scratched late from a game last week with a stiff neck. J.D. Drew missed a game with sore legs. In six games without Youkilis, one of which they played with four regulars out, the Sox went 4-2.
“Situations like that, it reminds us kind of how much we like our guys,” Francona said. “You see them pulling together. It gives me a little anxiety, because if somebody gets hurt, it’s not so much the worrying about not having players. It’s just, you get worried.”
One such situation came up Sunday night, when Pedroia's injury forced him from the game after the third inning, bringing Julio Lugo off the bench to play shortstop and moving Nick Green to second base.
Francona turned to bench coach Brad Mills and asked him, “Are you thinking who’s going to be our infielder here?”
“I’ve been thinking for two innings,” Mills replied. “I have no idea.”
Francona strolled down the bench and asked George Kottaras, who had played first in the minors, and “he did not have a good look,” Francona said.
Rocco Baldelli piped up that he could play, and “that was all I needed to hear,” Francona said. The last time Baldelli played shortstop was “probably a scrimmage game in high school, maybe,” he said. But he played first base in high school, and he often took ground balls at third when he played for Tampa Bay. That qualified Baldelli as the best choice.
The first thing Baldelli thought was, "I gotta find a cup." Baldelli ran into the Sox clubhouse and found one, and he also borrowed Youkilis’s infielder’s glove. He asked third base coach DeMarlo Hale how to turn a double play. “I’d never done it, really,” Baldelli said.
“I wasn’t really scared to go out there,” Baldelli said. “But, I mean, how good could it have ended up?”
(Baldelli actually gets a charge out of trying new positions. He said he petitioned to pitch during blowouts in Tampa Bay, and was disappointed that he was on the disabled list when Jonathan Van Every pitched in a blowout earlier this season.)
And that cup?
“I think I still got it, just in case,” Baldelli said. “I don’t think I’ll need it.”