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Thumb's down at 2B

Fracture lands Bellhorn on DL

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Another day, another body blow to the injury-riddled Red Sox. Baseball historians may one day regard the 2004 Sox as a team that either succumbed to -- or overcame -- an inordinate amount of pain. A year after the Sox placed only one position player, Jeremy Giambi, on the disabled list, they lost another key contributor yesterday when second baseman Mark Bellhorn landed on the 15-day DL with a fractured left thumb.

The contrast is startling. After losing Giambi for a total of 74 games, Sox position players already have spent a combined 264 games on the injured list this season: Ellis Burks (86), Trot Nixon (70), Nomar Garciaparra (57), Bill Mueller (37), Pokey Reese (13), and Bellhorn (1). Then there are the pitchers, most notably Ramiro Mendoza (82 games), Scott Williamson (48), and Curtis Leskanic (7).

Bellhorn, who could be out until nearly September, fractured the distal phalanx of his thumb Sunday when he was struck by a 94-mile-an-hour fastball in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss in Minnesota by Joe Nathan. X-rays at a hospital in Minneapolis confirmed the fracture, and the best-case scenario would be for Bellhorn to return when he is eligible to come off the DL Aug. 17.

But he is almost certain to need more time, if only to regain his swing and timing. He also expected to lose the fingernail on his left index finger.

"They want to make sure that the bone kind of stays together and doesn't break off," Bellhorn said. "I don't know how long that's going to take."

Though he leads the league in strikeouts (117), Bellhorn entered last night also leading in walks (68) and ranked among the leaders in runs (72). He knocked in his 56th run of the season Saturday, matching his career high for RBIs.

Aggravating matters, Reese may need to remain on the DL until Bellhorn comes off as he rehabs his strained right oblique. Reese hoped to begin swinging a bat by the end of the week.

With Bellhorn and Reese down, third baseman Bill Mueller shifted to second base, clearing the way for Kevin Youkilis to play third and bat second. Bellhorn's injury almost certainly spared Youkilis from a return trip to Pawtucket since he was the leading candidate to make room for newly acquired outfielder Dave Roberts.

Fast friend
No sooner did Roberts arrive from the Dodgers (the Sox acquired him for Triple A outfielder Henri Stanley) than manager Terry Francona said the speedster will start in right field tonight and replace Johnny Damon at the top of the order, at least for one game. Roberts (.253 with 33 steals and 45 runs in 68 games for the Dodgers) has been almost exclusively a leadoff hitter in six seasons with the Indians and Dodgers.

"I think I bring something a little bit different," said Roberts, 32, whose 97.1 percent success rate in steals (33 for 34) leads the majors. "I hope I can add a little bit of speed to make this team more balanced. That's all I want to do. I think it's going to be a better situation for all of us."

Francona agreed. The only American League teams that had stolen fewer bases than the Sox (41) were the Blue Jays (35) and Athletics (34).

"His numbers are tremendous," Francona said. "Hopefully, that continues. It will give us a weapon we really haven't had."

Roberts, who played with Manny Ramirez in Cleveland, said he was "shocked" to be traded during LA's push toward the postseason, especially since his family lives in California.

"But coming over here to Boston is an experience that I just in my wildest imagination could have never dreamed of, going from one pennant race to the next," he said.

Clause and effect
Alan Embree and Mike Timlin each made his 50th appearance of the season Sunday, triggering performance clauses that guarantee their contracts with the Sox for next season. Their '05 contracts are similar to their current deals, $3 million for Embree, $2.5 million for Timlin. Both pitchers have worked so much that the Sox are eager for Williamson to return. "He handles lefties and righties so well, and he makes it easier for Timlin and Embree to do their job with maybe less stress," Francona said . . . Tim Wakefield started his 239th game for the Sox, passing Luis Tiant for third place on the club's all-time list . . . Burks emerged from a checkup with the medical staff and said he was "pumped up" to receive clearance to take batting practice next week. He hopes to return before the end of the month . . . Damon and other Sox players said they have noticed some negativity directed at Garciaparra by team executives since the shortstop was traded. "That always happens," Damon said. "You have to make somebody look bad. When I got traded from Kansas City, it was, `Well, Johnny didn't want to agree to a contract.' Well, the fact was, they said if I agree to a contract, then Mike Sweeney or Jermaine Dye weren't going to be there. There can be a lot of half-truths, maybe on both sides." . . . With Wakefield improving to 10-1 in his career against the Rays, only three pitchers have defeated them more times. Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte each have 11 wins against Tampa Bay . . . The Sox have allowed only 19 runs in going 6-1 against the Rays while holding them to a .204 batting average.

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