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He'd prefer to spring ahead

Garciaparra still in `training' phase

DENVER -- If Nomar Garciaparra has yet to swing like a two-time batting champion, there may be a reason. If he has yet to flash his usual speed, range, or quickness, it could be the same reason.

The five-time All-Star, who said before his season debut last week he would need time to regain his form, is trying to help the Red Sox even as he effectively completes his final weeks of spring training, albeit in the big leagues.

"Absolutely," Garciaparra said last night when asked if he felt as if he were still trying to tune up while playing games that count. "That's all I'm doing, just working, working, and doing the best I can."

Garciaparra, who went 2 for 5 last night, is batting .250 with a double and three RBIs in six games since he returned from a severe case of tendinitis in his right Achilles'. He was working to refine his swing and timing after accumulating just 21 at-bats and hitting .238 over six rehab appearances with Triple A Pawtucket. He also went hitless in eight at-bats in spring training.

While Garciaparra and the Sox would have loved him to return on a tear, they understand lofty expectations may not be practical.

"If he's not ready to be in his perfect form, you just bite the bullet because at the end of the year, if you're patient, he's going to be good," manager Terry Francona said. "You just kind of grind through it."

Garciaparra said he has reacted instinctively in the field and has not held back. But Francona indicated Garciaparra might be wise to proceed cautiously.

"I don't know if he knows how to play without giving an effort," Francona said. "But when you're coming back from what he's coming back from and maybe it hurts a little bit, [overextending himself] is probably not the thing he needs to do."

Francona said he planned to rest Garciaparra this afternoon after he played last night. Pokey Reese, who made considerable progress recovering from a strained extensor tendon of the fourth toe on his right foot, was expected to replace Garciaparra at shortstop. Garciaparra is expected to play all three games this weekend in San Francisco.

Turning the page
Things are looking up for Derek Lowe, who has gone from ranking near the bottom in a number of categories among starting pitchers to stringing together two encouraging outings. After going 4-5 with a 6.83 ERA through May, Lowe has gone 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his first two starts in June. A similar scenario unfolded last year, when he went 4-3 with a 5.34 ERA through May before he went on a 5-0 run in June with a 3.27 ERA en route to a 17-7 finish.

Lowe, who is scheduled to face the Rockies today in the series finale, has not credited his work with sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman for his progress. But the relationship certainly has not hurt. Dorfman has written numerous books about sports psychology, including "The Mental ABC's of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement."

"People may think it's for guys like me who are showing emotion or maybe not pitching the way they would like," Lowe said. "But it benefits everybody, not only in sports but in life."

Many professional athletes work with psychologists. "There are many guys, even in this room, who talk to guys on a regular basis," Lowe said in the Sox clubhouse at Coors Field. "But it's confidential. Nobody knows about it."

Lowe said he has particularly learned the importance of preparation from Dorfman.

"Nowadays, I wouldn't want to say you're foolish not to talk to somebody," Lowe said, "but it's accessible, and anything that can make you better helps."

Session goes well
Cynics may say Sox general manager Theo Epstein may be trying to inflate Byung Hyun Kim's value on the trade market. But Epstein insisted otherwise, indicating he firmly hopes Kim will help the Sox again soon. Kim, who returned Sunday from a rehab trip to South Korea, threw at Fenway Park yesterday under the supervision of minor league pitching coordinator Goose Gregson.

"He did great," Epstein said. "He was very loose. He was only supposed to throw 120 feet, but he was throwing so well and it was coming out of his hand so well that he went to 150 [feet]. It's just a first look and it was just long toss, but the early impressions are that he has improved."

Kim is expected to begin pitching for Pawtucket next week, with Epstein expecting him to return later to Boston.

"He's coming back," Epstein said when asked about speculation that Kim's days with the Sox are numbered. "He could be a huge help. He's dominated big league hitters for four years. It doesn't just disappear. He wasn't severely hurt. So far the early reviews are positive."

Though the Sox signed Kim as a starter for $10 million through next season, Epstein said Kim would not necessarily return as a starter.

"Whatever the team needs most at the time," Epstein said. "We still think he can start, but we'll see what the team needs."

Burks not swell
Ellis Burks continued to be plagued by swelling in his left knee as he tries to come back from arthroscopic surgery . . . To make room for Trot Nixon, the Sox optioned Anastacio Martinez to Pawtucket, cutting the bullpen corps from seven to six . . . Mark Bellhorn's hitting streak ended at 13 games as he went 0 for 4 . . . Jason Varitek snapped a 1-for-18 slide when he homered in the eighth inning . . . Thanks to David Ortiz in the second inning, the Sox doubled in their 40th straight game, by far the longest streak in the majors. They lead the American League with 147 doubles . . . The Sox have invited families to celebrate Father's Day at Fenway Park Sunday from 3-7 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, with the proceeds going to the Red Sox Foundation. The game between the Sox and Giants in San Francisco, which starts at 4:05 p.m., will be shown on Fenway's video board. 

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