Commentary

Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew will help

To keep up with the Yankees in October, the Red Sox will need their best lineup

Updated: August 31, 2011, 9:50 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- On a minor league field Tuesday night in Rochester, N.Y., Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew and third baseman Kevin Youkilis took another step toward returning to Boston's lineup.

Drew (shoulder) and Youkilis (back) continued their respective rehab assignments and played for Triple-A Pawtucket. If all goes well, both should be activated from the disabled list later this week.

Drew went 3-for-3 and played right field for the PawSox, and he's expected to be activated on Thursday. Youkilis went 1-for-4 as Pawtucket's designated hitter and is hopeful to return on Friday.

The Red Sox need them.

Boston is no doubt a better team with both guys playing, and that was evident Tuesday night as the New York Yankees defeated the Red Sox 5-2 at Fenway Park. Prior to the first game of this three-game series, Boston had a 10-2 record versus New York this season, and in most of those previous games Youkilis and Drew were in the lineup.

They weren't on Tuesday and won't be there on Wednesday, either.

"Youk's an All-Star, he's a great hitter and he's a guy we need in our lineup," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "J.D. as well. When he's in there against a right-handed pitcher, and he's healthy, he's been great. With that shoulder issue, a lot of people don't realize how bad that can hurt you. You can't go the other way, so you try to pull everything. Once they're healthy, we'll be where we need to be. We've done a good job filling in for those guys, but we definitely need them back."

With the Yankees starting lefty CC Sabathia on Tuesday night, the left-handed-hitting Drew likely would not have been in the lineup anyway. But Youkilis, Boston's cleanup hitter, would have been.

Youkilis is a career .313 hitter against the Yankees and holds a .368 mark (14-for-38) against Sabathia. In Youkilis' absence, second baseman Dustin Pedroia has been hitting cleanup for Boston, and even though he has a .393 average in 23 career starts in the No. 4 spot, the lineup clearly is better with him as the No. 2 hitter.

Sabathia entered Tuesday's game winless in four starts against the Red Sox this season. That changed after the lefty worked six innings and allowed only two runs on 10 hits with 10 strikeouts and two walks. He threw 128 pitches, which matches the second-most of his career.

"His stuff was tremendous tonight," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

The Red Sox forced Sabathia to throw a lot of pitches, but when he needed to bear down, he did. The Red Sox stranded a total of 16 runners, including 13 in scoring position.

"He was great tonight," Pedroia said. "He was locating his stuff, and he's got great stuff. We tried our best to wear him down, but he kept making pitches. You just tip your hat, come out and try to win tomorrow."

It's safe to say Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez quickly filed away his performance. He went 0-for-5, including three strikeouts against Sabathia.

"I went in with a game plan to see some pitches, and right off the bat, I took a fastball away off the plate and it was called [a strike] and put me in more of a swinging mentality," Gonzalez said. "I chased a lot of pitches out of the zone after that. I feel that Ed [Rapuano] is a great umpire, but tonight he was calling pitches off the plate to lefties and it made it a lot tougher."

[+] EnlargeDarnell McDonald
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDarnell McDonald's bases-loaded strikeout ended the seventh inning, part of a frustrating night for the Sox hitters.

There were two situations in which the Red Sox ran into trouble on the basepaths.

With New York holding a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third, Boston's Marco Scutaro was thrown out trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double.

"I thought that was good baserunning," Francona said. "They made a really good play. He came out of the box hard and I have no problem with that. In fact, I was standing on the top step because I like that. That was good baseball. He was just out."

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Boston had another opportunity when Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz could have scored from second on a Carl Crawford single to left-center field. But Ortiz got a late jump and had to remain at third as the Sox loaded the bases. That's as far as Ortiz would get as Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Darnell McDonald struck out to end the inning.

"He actually said he didn't see it," Francona said. "He said it went up in the lights and he lost it and didn't know where to go."

There's a strong possibility these teams could meet in October. In order to win, the Red Sox need their best lineup.

"We definitely want everybody to be healthy," Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford said. "You want the guys you had at the beginning of the year in the lineup, so it's very important to get everybody back. But other guys have been picking up the slack very well."

Boston's lineup has a chance to respond the next two games, facing Yankees starters Phil Hughes (4-4, 6.46 ERA) on Wednesday and A.J. Burnett (9-11, 5.31) on Thursday.

"The only thing that matters is we go into the playoffs healthy," Gonzalez said. "Losing today isn't really that big of a deal. We'll come back and win the series the next two days and continue to play good baseball."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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