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Pedroia prepares for return

03.19.09 at 5:52 pm ET

SARASOTA, Fla. — Dustin Pedroia did not make the trip to Ed Smith Stadium to play the Reds tonight. But then, because of injuries to some of the team’s starters and the absence of a designated hitter rule in the National League park (something that prevented David Ortiz from making the trip), almost no recognizable names on the Red Sox made the roughly 75-mile trip.

“I turned around (on the bus),” manager Terry Francona admitted sheepishly, “and I didn’t know anybody.”

Though Pedroia was held behind at City of Palms Park, however, his day was anything but lost. The second baseman swung for the first time since suffering a lower left abdomen strain while playing for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic on Saturday, taking live batting practice at the Red Sox’ spring training facility. The session went without a hitch, and so the 2008 MVP will be back in the lineup on Friday when the Sox play the Pirates.

He is expected to get two at-bats on Friday, stay back to take batting practice on Saturday, and then increase his workload to three at-bats on Sunday.

“When he first came back we were all holding our breath a little bit,” said Francona. “After the initial relief, once he started getting back into what he was doing, we thought he was going to be okay.”

Prior to taking B.P., Pedroia reiterated that he is encouraged by his progress.

“I feel good. I haven’t felt (the injury) since (it happened),” said Pedroia. “The training staff has done a great job.”

A few other pre-game notes:

–In the absence of a D.H., Jon Lester will hit in tonight’s game. Lester looked a bit befuddled when confronted with a batting helmet in City of Palms before he hit the road for tonight’s start. Francona did not go so far as to say that Lester must superglue his bat to his shoulder.

“We may have him bunt,” said Francona. “We’€™ll see. I don’€™t want to give away too much strategy.”

–On a day when Tim Wakefield‘s knuckleball was giving fits to a team of Twins minor leaguers, George Kottaras looked comfortable behind the plate. Wakefield allowed one hit and fanned three in five scoreless innings, throwing 48 pitches (32 strikes). Through the first three innings, Kottaras boxed one nasty late-breaking pitch (with no base runners aboard), but otherwise, did a good job of keeping his hands close to his body and receiving the ball late. Kottaras has received very positive assessments of his receiving ability. More on him in a bit.

–The day after he looked strong in a two-inning minor-league stint, Brad Penny reported no setbacks, and the big right-hander is set to start on Monday in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. “(Penny was) real upbeat. That was good to hear,” said Francona. “I thought he was strong. That was a good step forward.”

Kevin Youkilis will be examined by a foot specialist on Saturday. Until then, any work he does will be off the field. When examined, then the team will figure out his schedule for a return to the diamond.

Read More: Dustin Pedroia, Tim Wakefield, WBC,
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