The Red Sox might be facing a dilemma with rookie Will Middlebrooks once veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who has been on the disabled list since May 2 with a lower back strain, returns.
"I think itís a little premature, but weíll do exactly whatís right,'' said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "Those things usually play themselves out, but thereís no need to make a decision until itís time to make a decision."
Although Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is on record as saying that no player loses his job to injury, Middlelbroooks has made it difficult for the Sox to send him back to Triple A Pawtucket. He is hitting .310 with four home runs and 13 RBIs since making his major league debut May 2.
Youkilis continued his rehab work, taking ground balls and swings in the batting cage.
"He looked pretty good taking ground balls today, I wouldn't think he's very far away,'' Valentine said of Youkilis. "He took 10 swings on the soft toss and 30 dry swings and hit some balls today. He looked really good moving around."
Asked if he anticipated having Youkilis for the road trip to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, Valentine replied, "I would have no idea. Whenever the medical [staff] and Kevin say he's ready .... but, in my eyes, taking some ground balls, he looked good fielding and throwing.''
Although he was not prepared to divulge what the plans are for Middlebrooks once Youkilis can play, Valentine said it was highly unlikely Middlebrooks would remain with the big club just to ride the bench.
"Sitting on the bench is not a place for very many players, especially good young talented players,'' Valentine said. "What would be the purpose of having someone sit on the bench, unless there was a useful purpose not being in the starting role and being able to contribute to the team's wins. Now is there a place for him to do that? I'm not sure.''
In other matters:
* Although he was transferred to the 60-day diabled list Sunday to make room for Pawtucket first baseman Mauro Gomez, Jacoby Ellsbury continued to make progress in his recovery from a right shoulder subluxation suffered in the home opener April 13.
"He looked good in the weight room and he looks good in the training room, now I havenít seen him in the Field of Dreams out there where itís all green and he looks so natural,'' Valentine said. ``He hasnít had any setbacks and he has almost full range of motion and his strength is building, so itís all good. His agility and his cardio, heís worked really hard on those things with his legs.''
Asked if Ellsbury's healing process has ruled out surgery, Valentine said, ``I'd be surprised. I've never had that conversation with anyone Ė asking it or hearing it, from the training room or from Jacoby.''
* Asked about the recent performance of the bullpen, which has led the Majors since April 23 with a 1.41 ERA in 76.2 innings, Valentine said, "I have great confidence in my players and what I try to do is put them in situations where where they can succeed in and it seems like the situations are expanding for most of the guys.
"Theyíre not being limited by a platoon situation or by runners on base, or even some history guys have had with some hitters that theyíre facing,'' Valentine said. "It seems like theyíre trying to bust right through any barriers, and thatís a good thing."
Asked if there were any surprises in the bullpen, Valentine cited Vicente Padilla, who has not allowed any of his 11 inherited runners to score, and Alfredo Aceves, who continues his adjustment as the team's closer.
"I think Padillaís been a surprise, because there wasnít a lot of history,'' Valentine said. "Aceves has got to be a bit of a surprise Ė at the end of the game Ė for the same reason, but I thought they could do it, but itís been a bit of a surprise."
* Valentine celebrated his 62d birthday Sunday. Asked how he spent it, the manager replied: "I did it with a lot of friends, isnít that what you do? Eat dinner, drink some wine, cut the cake, tell some lies. The North End treated me well.''