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Still hanging around the corner

Youkilis unmoved by talk of a trade

All things considered, the question had some merit, even if Johnny Damon delivered it playfully.

"You're still here?" Damon asked Kevin Youkilis as the Red Sox prepared to fly home Sunday from San Francisco.

After all, Kansas City Royals general manager Allard Baird and two top aides scouted Youkilis over the weekend in their search for a young, low-budget third baseman and catcher they can acquire in trade for their star center fielder, Carlos Beltran, who is eligible for free agency after the season.

Youkilis and Triple A catcher Kelly Shoppach may fit Baird's wish list, though it's not clear that the Red Sox would part with two of their top prospects to effectively rent Beltran for three months. In any case, finding himself the subject of trade talks is nothing new to Youkilis, whose name has been floated for two years. Oakland GM Billy Beane's interest in him was famously chronicled in the book "Moneyball."

"It feels like last year all over again," said Youkilis, who split that season between Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket. "It was the same thing. I was in Portland and [teammates] were saying, `You're getting traded.' "

Yet Youkilis has more to worry about than trade speculation. The big leagues have posed a challenge for Youkilis since he burst on the scene in Toronto May 15, homering in his second at-bat en route to winning the American League Rookie of the Month award for May.

Youkilis, who joins the likes of Wade Boggs, Wilton Veras, and Shea Hillenbrand as third basemen who have risen through the Sox system, hit .318 with a .446 on-base percentage and scored 15 runs in 13 games in May after he took over for the injured Bill Mueller. Since then, he has hit .231 with a .310 on-base percentage and has scored 5 runs in 14 games.

"I think he's done a pretty good job considering everything that's been thrown at him," manager Terry Francona said. "I mean, he gets called up and we're fighting every day for wins that are important. We haven't exactly nursed him along."

Youkilis generally has delivered in the clutch, batting .304 with a .452 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position. And he has practiced the patience that made him one of the top on-base machines in baseball after the Sox signed him out of the University of Cincinnati in 2001. He has seen 4.41 pitches per plate appearance, which would lead the league if he qualified. Jason Varitek ranks first (4.35), with Mark Bellhorn third (4.24), Damon fifth (4.18), and Manny Ramirez ninth (4.10).

"Even as he's learning," Francona said of Youkilis, "he's giving himself a chance."

Youkilis said he learned from his difficult transition last year from Portland to Pawtucket.

"I got away from a lot of my plan last year at Triple A," he said. "I got a little jumpy, thinking I've got to do good here in the last month and maybe get a chance to get called up. That was the wrong attitude. I tried to do too much. Now, I'm just trying to stay with my plan and be calm and collected. If I can do that, I think I can help out this team a lot."

With Mueller likely to return before the All-Star break, Youkilis could be at risk of returning to Pawtucket, though Kansas City is another possible destination.

"Hopefully, I'll stay here," he said. "That would be nice."

Good to go
Cleared to continue pitching after a third MRI in recent weeks on his sore right ankle, Curt Schilling is scheduled to open a six-game homestand tonight against the Twins. Before agreeing to waive his no-trade clause last winter, Schilling worried about pitching in Fenway Park, because he gives up nearly as many fly balls as grounders. But Fenway has turned out to be very friendly to Schilling, who is 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA at home. By contrast, he is 3-4 with a 4.34 ERA on the road . . . Minnesota's visit will mark the Fenway debut of Lew Ford, a promising rookie outfielder whom the Sox traded to the Twins in 2000 for reliever Hector Carrasco. The Sox got next to nothing out of Carrasco, who pitched all of 6 2/3 innings in a Boston uniform. Ford has hit .314 for the Twins and arrives in town with a 13-game hitting streak . . . Old friend Jose Offerman, a utility player for the Twins, will face the Sox for the first time in the regular season since he angrily tossed just about everything he could get his hands on while cursing team officials and reporters in the clubhouse in Texas after he was designated for assignment in 2002 . . . One of the low points of Derek Lowe's career -- coughing up seven runs in just 2 1/3 innings May 20 at Tampa Bay -- may have been the best thing to happen to the Devil Rays. Lou Piniella's crew, which entered that series finale against the Sox with a record of 10-28, won the game to begin a 22-6 run. They take an 11-game winning streak into Toronto tonight.

Leskanic on deck
Look for the Sox to announce the signing of hard-throwing righthanded reliever Curtis Leskanic as soon as today. Leskanic, 36, who is 47-32 with a 4.39 ERA over 11 seasons, was released by the Royals last week for financial reasons (he could have earned $1 million in performance bonuses in addition to the balance of his $1.375 million salary). He would make the prorated major league minimum, about $175,000, with the Sox. He most likely would replace lefthander Mark Malaska . . . Even though Pedro Martinez has surrendered 11 home runs (after giving up seven all last season), Sox pitchers have allowed the fewest long balls (52) in the American League. Sox pitchers also have hit more batters with pitches (42) than any other team in the majors. Bronson Arroyo has plunked 10 batters. He is tied with Oakland's Tim Hudson for second in the AL behind Tampa Bay's Victor Zambrano (11). Arroyo has logged a 3.15 ERA on the road and a 7.07 mark at Fenway . . . Scott Williamson has held opponents to a .104 batting average, the lowest among qualifying relievers in the majors . . . The Sox are 36-0 when they lead after eight innings . . . Contributions continue to flow but proceeds from the final Nomar 5 Bowl have topped $400,000, raising the total Nomar Garciaparra has raised for needy children to more than $1 million . . . The Sox play 12 of their final 18 games before the All-Star break at home, then open the second half with 18 of 24 on the road . . . Rule 5 lefty Lenny DiNardo, who made his major league debut two months ago by pitching a scoreless inning at Yankee Stadium, has allowed only one home run (to Baltimore's Melvin Mora) in 22 1/3 innings . . . Portland lefty Juan Perez was selected to play for the World team in the All-Star Futures Game in Houston July 11. Perez, 23, is 2-0 with three saves and a 1.78 ERA in 22 relief appearances. The Sox signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 1998 . . . Single A Sarasota lefthander Juan Cedeno was named the Florida State League pitcher of the week for June 14-20 . . . Single A Augusta outfielder Brandon Moss and righthanded starter Jarrett Gardner were selected for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game June 29 in Charleston, S.C. . . . The Sox will unveil a Pan-Massachusetts Challenge logo on the Green Monster before tonight's game, in recognition of the 25th annual bicycle ride to fight cancer. 

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