When the Red Sox take the field against the Cleveland Indians tonight at Fenway Park, J.D. Drew will be in the lineup for the first time since Aug. 17.
Manager Terry Francona revealed this afternoon during his weekly interview with the “Dale and Holley Show” on sports radio station WEEI that Drew, who is batting .280 with 19 homers in 107 games this season, will start in right field.
Drew, who has missed 33 games with a herniated disk in his back, received an epidural Monday, and felt well enough to take batting practice before last night’s game.
“He was putting on a clinic [in BP],” Francona said. “He’s done that a few times. This time is the first time he’s felt good and stayed good.”
Francona said he was uncertain whether Drew, the Most Valuable Player of this year’s All-Star Game, would play a full nine innings as the club eases him back into action.
The manager also noted that left fielder Jason Bay won’t start tonight, with Chris Carter taking his place in the lineup. With a playoff berth secured, Francona indicated he will try to rest his regulars periodically during the regular season’s final five games.
“We don’t have a lot of middle infielders,” Francona said, “so we’re going to mix and match, try to give one guy a day every day.”
A few other subjects Francona touched on during the interview:
On whether it’s more important to try to win the AL East or to rest his players and set up the pitching staff for the postseason:
“We really do place an importance on winning the division, but a lot of that is out of our hands. We could win out and still not catch Tampa. We do need to be realistic . . . while also understanding what our final goal is. We all witnessed going into the playoffs [in ’05] at not 100 percent, and Chicago shooed us right out of the playoffs.”
On how he feels about the state of the starting rotation:
“I think we’ll feel about as good anybody. At this point of the season, there is a lot of wear and tear on every pitcher in league. We’re situated to lean on [our starters] a little bit. [As far as setting up the rotation for the playoffs], we’re going to put together the game plan that gives us the best chance to go forward.”
On the MVP chances of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis:
“Just to be talked about as an MVP candidate means you’re having some kind of year.”
On the Manny Ramirez trade July 31, which brought Bay to Boston and unified the clubhouse:
“I applaud [general manager] Theo [Epstein] for recognizing we needed to make a change . . . to have guts to do that made us a better ball club. I know people could question trading Manny, to think it would blow up in our faces, but I think [what has happened since] proves we’re a better ball club, and I applaud Theo for having the guts to do that.
“I think our goal was to be a better team, and I think we accomplished that.”
On the postgame celebration Tuesday night, and whether the Red Sox should be accustomed to such things after earning five postseason berths in the past six years:
“[Each season is always] different, the paths are always different, but the reward should never be any less significant. Because we’ve been fortunate to be there before, it’s no less enjoyable. It makes older guys look younger. You see how young kids react. It’s a really neat feeling.”
On how he celebrated: “Went home, watched ‘Prison Break,’ got up and went to Starbucks, and returned to the ballpark. Not much changes.”