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BALTIMORE -- Kevin Youkilis had little use for the pregame scrum at his locker Tuesday.
"There's no story here," he said tersely, as if the return of a three-time All-Star after an absence of 3½ weeks should merit no more attention than the arrival of a new shipment of bats.
But if Youkilis thought he could slip in unobtrusively, he failed miserably, launching a home run into the visitors' bullpen in the fourth inning in his second at-bat back in a Red Sox uniform.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the rest of the offense was rendered invisible by Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz and three relievers, Youkilis accounting for Boston's only run in a 4-1 defeat.
And even though Youkilis passed on a chance to reconnect with the media after the game -- with a 12:30 start Wednesday, he undoubtedly was intent on gaining a good night's sleep -- there's little chance of him fading as a story in the coming weeks.
Not when there's a kid at third base, Will Middlebrooks, who would like nothing better than to take his job, any number of teams that could use the kind of productive hitter that Youkilis is when healthy, and a Red Sox general manager, Ben Cherington, who has seven outfielders on the disabled list and, for the moment at least, is deploying a Gold Glove first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, in right field.
Something has to give, and with Ryan Sweeney out indefinitely with a concussion, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford not expected back until July at the earliest, and Cody Ross, who officially went on the DL Tuesday night with a fractured bone in his left foot, on a similar unofficial timetable, the Red Sox will be exploring every conceivable avenue for help.
|Kevin Youkilis is congratulated by Will Middlebrooks, who filled in admirably for Youkilis at third.|
One, of course, is trading Youkilis, which may account for his noticeable reticence Tuesday. He may well feel he has said all that he needs to say on the subject, namely that he loves playing here, will continue to play here until he's told otherwise, and that if the Sox elect to deal him elsewhere, well, that's the business, isn't it?
That's not the only path available to Cherington, though his cellphone may have lit up when Youkilis parked a ball over the wall in left-center, one of only two hits allowed by Matusz, whose devastating array of off-speed pitches, especially a no-mercy curveball, led to nine whiffs.
Youkilis could go on a tear, Middlebrooks could hit a wall, and the Sox could elect to pursue the more conventional route of returning Middlebrooks to Pawtucket while relying on Youkilis to help deliver another trip to October.
Still, with Youkilis in the last year of a contract and Middlebrooks making a compelling case that he belongs here -- he believes it and so do other converts, present company included -- the veteran infielder could prove a valuable asset in restoring some balance to a roster that on Tuesday introduced another long-in-the-tooth outfielder, 36-year-old Scott Podsednik.
Podsednik, who hit a game-winning home run in the 2005 World Series for the Chicago White Sox, has not played in the big leagues since 2010. He has kept himself in great shape, can still run some, and has never had any issues catching the ball. But if the Sox had thought he would be a major difference maker, they would have grabbed him before dealing for 35-year-old Marlon Byrd, whose average is hovering just over the Mendoza line (.203) and has proven to be something less than a lockdown defender.
Podsednik is here for the same reason rookie Che-Hsuan Lin is here -- when outfielders drop like an Old Testament plague, you summon whatever help you can get. Next thing you know, Jose Canseco of the Worcester Tornadoes will be bugging Cherington for an audition.
It's obvious that Cherington isn't wild about the idea of using Gonzalez in right field, although with Ross down, right-handed bats are at a premium and displacing Gonzalez from first base is the only way Valentine can get both Middlebrooks and Youkilis in the lineup.
"I think Bobby has a good feel for Adrian playing the outfield position," Cherington said. "It's not going to be an everyday thing, probably not a long-term thing.''
Valentine, whose relationship with Youkilis is in no danger of being featured on Match.com, has a vested interest, of course, in how his roster shakes out. Give the manager credit. After a 4-10 start, the Red Sox clearly are trending in the right direction, even though Tuesday's loss dropped them a game under .500. Valentine straightened out the bullpen, the rotation is rounding into form (six strong innings by Felix Doubront were wasted Tuesday night) and the offense has generally remained highly productive, Tuesday being a notable exception against a very clever pitcher.
The home run by Youkilis, the manager said, was as good as he has seen him hit a ball this spring.
"He's healthy," Valentine said. "He ran the bases better."
Because he struck out twice, Youkilis's only trip around the bases came on his home run, but he opted more for a sprinter's pace than the conventional trot.
Guaranteed that the scouts sitting in the first few rows all took notice. That will be true for everything he does.
No story here? Sorry, Youk. That one's not going to fly.