Saturday, July 25, 2009

Youkilis gets day off for LaRoche debut

Interesting note from ESPN's Buster Olney today:

(Tony) La Russa made what I think was a smart decision Friday. With the addition of (Matt) Holliday, it appears the odd man out is Rick Ankiel, with the bulk of the outfield playing time expected to go to Colby Rasmus, Ryan Ludwick and Holliday. Ankiel probably went to the park wondering how much of a place he'll have with the Cardinals for the next 10 weeks. But he was in the starting lineup, as it turned out. Look, in the end, Ankiel probably is going to lose at-bats, but this was a good way to remind Ankiel that he is part of the team and is valued, a carrot for him to chase.

The Holliday-Ankiel situation seems particularly relevant given the way the Red Sox lineup looks for Saturday's game against the Orioles: LaRoche playing first base, Mike Lowell playing third base and Kevin Youkilis on the bench. It will be Youkilis' first day off since he returned from the disabled list on May 20.

This is not a harbinger of lineups to come, something Red Sox manager Terry Francona made sure to emphasize during his pregame meeting with reporters.

"This isn't going to be, like, a rotation," Francona said, the implication clearly being that Youkilis is not going to lose regular playing time to the new arrival.

Youkilis will be right back in the lineup and playing third base, Francona said, for Sunday's day game. That appears to indicate that Mike Lowell will take a seat on Sunday.

You have to wonder if Francona might have been doing for Lowell what LaRussa did for Ankiel, sending one of those actions-speak-louder-than-words messages: Hey, look, the new guy is in the lineup, and so are you. You still matter. But based on health and quality of production -- both offensive and defense -- it appears that Lowell is the far likelier candidate to lose playing time to LaRoche if indeed the former Pittsburgh Pirate ends up playing four or five days a week.

Youkilis, for his part, didn't particularly want a day off -- "I just had an off-day," he said with a wry grin -- but took it in stride.

"They told me that today was my off-day," he told a group of reporters circled around his locker. "You guys know just as much as I do."

The goateed infielder is hitting .229 and OBP'ing .299 in July and has seen his OPS slip below 1.000 for the first time all season. (It was 1.031 on July 1 and now is .972.) He fanned three times against the Orioles on Friday night and has struck out 43 times in 44 games since June 1.

But a day off, he said, isn't exactly the cure.

"I don't get too many off-days," he said, "so I don't really know how to deal with them."

The plan for today?

"Root my teammates on," he said. "A lot of high-fives, hopefully. A lot of runs scored. Other than that, there's not much you can do but eat seeds and chew gum."


Jeff Bailey took some swings before the rest of the team took batting practice on Friday. No problem.

Bailey then did some throwing in the outfield. No problem.

Bailey then did some sprinting on the infield, running from first to third with a turn at second base. Problem.

The Red Sox first baseman rolled his ankle in a collision at first base on July 3 and hasn't played since. He has remained with the team -- in a weird twist of fate, he's accruing major-league service time now he wouldn't have had he been optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket like Aaron Bates was -- but still is a week or two away from returning to any kind of action.

"It's taking a little longer than I thought," he said. "I don't really want to push it too much because I want to be 100 percent when I'm playing again. At the same time, I want to play, but I know I probably shouldn't because I know I'll just hurt myself again. ...

"It's just the running. Hitting is fine, and fielding seems to be fine. It's going straight ahead and starting and stopping. Today, when I was trying to go around the bases, that didn't feel very good."

Said Francona, "He actually got his ankle rolled over pretty good. He's doing everything. He's just not doing it to the point where we can go let him play. It just needs to heal a little more. The good part of that is he's able to swing and take grounders. We just can't let him go play in a game. It might be another week, 10 days, two weeks -- we'll have to see how he does. ... He's doing all his baseball stuff. It just hurts."

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