ST. PETERSBURG -- Though the Red Sox didn't see Kevin Youkilis first-hand during his 1-for-2 performance for Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday, they received some positive reports.
"Good," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He hit a 94-mph fastball. He was real aggressive at the plate. He got all of his work. He battled a walk. It sounds like he had a good night."
Youkilis took Thursday off and will play third base for Pawtucket on Friday after serving as the designated hitter in his first game.
Could Youkilis resurface during the three-game series at Philadelphia or is it more likely he rejoins the team in Baltimore for a series that starts Monday?
"It's on him," said Valentine. "When he's ready, he'll probably give us a call."
Will Middlebrooks, the club's top prospect filling in for Youkilis, has cooled off following a red-hot start. The third baseman entered Thursday's game with two hits in his last 12 at-bats.
Papi to break out first baseman's mitt in Philly
ST. PETERSBURG -- With the Red Sox playing three games in Philadelphia this weekend under National League rules, designated hitter David Ortiz will have his first baseman's mitt ready. Meanwhile, Adrian Gonzalez is also expected to see some action in right field.
Manager Bobby Valentine isn't sure yet how much he will use the Ortiz-Gonzalez alignment, but expect it to happen at least once.
It's a better situation than a year ago, when the Red Sox played nine straight games in NL cities. After these three games in Philly, Boston will complete the road portion of Interleague Play from June 11-17, with three games at Miami and another three at Wrigley Field.
"I'm fine," said Ortiz. "No fear. Never from Papi. Wish me good luck."
Ortiz proved in the 2004 and '07 World Series that he's capable of making a good play when the occasions calls for it. The one thing he's not comfortable with is pop flies.
Having an elite second baseman like Dustin Pedroia makes his life a little easier.
"I try not to put pressure on myself and I just try to not be all fancy out there or whatever, but try to have the communication with Pedey, and I just don't want to be in the wrong place when it comes down to catching a fly ball or catching a ground ball," Ortiz said. "I try to mark the territory where I should be at, and after that, try to keep it simple."
While Boston is clearly better offensively with Ortiz and Gonzalez both in the lineup, Valentine doesn't want to overdo it, particularly with Gonzalez in the outfield.
"I think they're both capable," Valentine said. "It's just, you know, Adrian, again, is playing every day and asking him to run around the outfield and do that for a few days in this long stretch, it might be much. That was David's thought, too. I think David can catch it at first. Then you always have those plays -- throwing with the runner in the line, and things that could happen. I don't think David is real friendly with popups either."
Ortiz started two games at first base last season, and Gonzalez started twice in right. Neither player made an error.
Ross finds redemption with four-RBI night
ST. PETERSBURG -- Cody Ross didn't mean to lose the ball amid the white ceiling of Tropicana Field on Wednesday night. And he certainly didn't mean to lose his footing either, turning a shallow flyball into a sacrifice fly that sank his team.
But Ross sure felt bad about it. He felt he cost his team the game.
The beauty of baseball is that the chance at redemption usually comes the next day. And that's why Thursday's 2-for-3, four-RBI performance by Ross was one that he savored.
"I obviously felt really bad about last night," said Ross. "It was just a tough play. To come out today and pick up the team [and] get a victory to split the short series is real big for us."
It was Ross who led the offense on a night the Red Sox edged the Rays, 5-3.
"Cody was big tonight," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He busted the third changeup he saw over the center-field fence and he busted their shift for two RBIs, and it turned out to be the two that we needed. Cody will give you everything he has. It's enough for me -- good player."
The signature highlight Ross provided in this one was a solo shot that cleared the fence in center in the top of the third.
Not to be overlooked was the bases-loaded walk he worked in the first, or the two-run single in the eighth that gave the Red Sox some breathing room.
The insurance hit came against Wade Davis.
"He threw me a curveball first pitch and I swung, so I was just trying to battle," Ross said. "I looked out there and I saw the shift. I was trying to hit a hole, and luckily I hit it right to the shortstop and he wasn't there."
Aviles loses his cool, earns first career ejection
ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortstop Mike Aviles lost his temper in the top of the seventh inning on Thursday night, and the result was his first Major League ejection.
It was home-plate umpire Dan Bellino who called out Aviles on strikes and ejected him just moments later. According to television replays, the third strike actually looked to be a good call. Aviles seemed upset about the consistency of Bellino's strike zone.
"Just frustrating, I guess," Aviles said after the Red Sox's 5-3 victory vs. the Rays. "[I] really wasn't questioning if it was a ball or a strike on the last one. It was more that he had called two balls very similar balls, so at that point, I had shut off that pitch. So when he called it a strike, he gave me the hook a little quick, prematurely. At that point, I definitely lost my cool and I apologize for that. It's definitely a little frustrating."
What irked Aviles so much on this night?
"When you're out there battling a team such as the Rays, who are notorious for their pitching, it's tough when they're getting some extra pitches," Aviles said. "It went both ways. I'm not saying we were getting hosed on pitches and they weren't. It was just frustrating for both sides. It was pretty evident, but it's just the way the game is played. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. It was unfortunate, but luckily we pulled out the victory."
Several Boston players seemed frustrated during their at-bats. And Adrian Gonzalez complained about the strike zone following Wednesday's loss.
"You can't fight the umpire and the other team, but we're a highly competitive team," said manager Bobby Valentine. "I like to be given a chance. A lot of guys had complaints tonight, and I was with them, but we've got to fight through it. We're trying our hardest, and I think they're trying their hardest, too."
Adrian's homer prediction comes up short
ST. PETERSBURG -- First baseman Adrian Gonzalez told reporters after Wednesday's loss that he would break his prolonged home-run drought on Thursday night.
He responded by hitting a towering blast down the right-field line in his first at-bat that easily cleared the fence. The only problem? It was a foul ball.
"Just out in front, just a hair," Gonzalez said. "Hanging changeup, I think. Just back it up a little more. That was a good swing."
The Red Sox won the game, 5-3. Gonzalez, meanwhile, has gone 106 at-bats and a full month since his last home run.
"It just went foul, you know? We won the game," said Gonzalez. "I hit the one. I never said it was going to be fair or foul. It went over the fence. It was a home run, and we won the game."
In the first inning, Rays lefty Matt Moore took the bat out of Gonzalez's hands by drilling him with a pitch.
Was there a purpose to it? Perhaps the Rays were put off by Gonzalez predicting he would hit a home run?
"If it was, it was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in baseball," said manager Bobby Valentine. "But it might have been. I doubt it. ... If we have to resort to that kind of stupidity, maybe the game has passed me by."
Gonzalez didn't seem worked up about it, and the Red Sox later scored a run in that first inning.
"I think he's trying to pitch inside. I don't think he'd want to load the bases in that situation," Gonzalez said. "If he did, thank you, because we won the game. You never know what could have happened. Like Bobby said, if that was their intent, 'Hey, keep doing it.' It didn't hurt."
The Red Sox head to Philadelphia for a three-game series that starts Friday night. Does Gonzalez have any more predictions?
"From now on, I'm going to try to let it go. I don't care. I'm going to go up there and see what happens," Gonzalez said.
Dice-K shaky again in Minors rehab start
ST. PETERSURG -- A day after Bobby Valentine said that he didn't think Daisuke Matsuzaka was close to being ready to pitch in the Major Leagues, the righty made his manager look prophetic.
Making his fourth Minor League rehab start, Matsuzaka went 6 2/3 innings, giving up seven hits and five runs (four earned). He walked none and struck out three, giving up two homers.
Pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket during a game played in Durham, Matsuzaka threw 95 pitches, 64 of which were for strikes.
Matsuzaka will pitch next for Pawtucket on Tuesday. After that, the clock will run out on his 30-day rehab assignment.
At that point, the Red Sox might have to get creative and find a way for the righty to get some more tune-ups in before returning to the Majors.