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Nixon is back in the swing

Outlook better after a little BP

Forget September call-ups. The Red Sox may tap their minor league system for an extra player or two when the rules allow them to expand their 25-man roster Wednesday, but any help from the farm is likely to pale against the abundance of talent they gain from the return of numerous players, including Trot Nixon, from the disabled list.

Nixon, whose torn left quadriceps seriously threatened to end his season, has exceeded expectations so much in his recovery that he resumed running the bases and taking batting practice before last night's game against the Tigers at Fenway Park. He indicated he expected to return in time to help the Sox down the stretch.

Waiting in the wings with Nixon are Pokey Reese (strained right oblique), Kevin Youkilis (bruised right ankle bone), David McCarty (cyst in right wrist), and Ellis Burks (left knee surgery). Even Scott Williamson (right elbow), once considered lost for the season, continued throwing in the hope he can return next month.

McCarty began a rehab assignment last night for Triple A Pawtucket (he was 1 for 2 with a walk, was hit by a pitch, and scored in the PawSox' 4-2 victory over Syracuse) and Nixon hopes to follow McCarty before the PawSox end their regular season Sept. 6.

"If things go well," Nixon said, "there's definitely a possibility I might get a few rehab games down in Pawtucket."

Nixon, who has missed 92 games with back and quad injuries, ran the bases reasonably hard and made good contact in batting practice. He said he felt better than he has since he injured his quad while recovering from his back injury early in the season. The Sox considered his situation so tenuous before the trading deadline that they picked up Dave Roberts from the Dodgers for outfield depth.

"It's a complete 180," Nixon said. "My entire lower body is probably stronger than at any time since I hurt my leg."

Team medical director Bill Morgan said through a spokesman that Nixon had "met all goals with his therapy and has very little tenderness."

Nixon said he hopes to take batting practice under simulated game conditions by early next week. He had not swung a bat or run the bases for a month before yesterday. "I want to feel fairly confident when I go back out there, not lost," he said. "Right now, I feel lost."

But he itched to chip in. "I'm not expecting to come back and walk on water," he said. "I don't want to rock the boat. I just want to come back and get in the boat with these guys."

Nixon adamantly rejected the notion he aggravated the injury during the July 24 brawl with the Yankees.

"Anyone who says that, I can squash that bug in a heartbeat," he said.

Reese also ran the bases and swung the bat well.

"He's in the early phases of building endurance with these activities," according to Morgan. "We're waiting for him to be entirely pain-free."

Youkilis took some cuts in the cage, played catch, and jogged after returning from eight days of rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla.

As for Burks, he continued to wage an arduous comeback struggle. "There was a little swelling that we're treating," said Morgan's spokeman, "but nothing unexpected."

Williamson, who recently came within hours of undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery before he postponed it, hoped to rejoin the Sox in a couple of days. He has been throwing lightly but remains a long shot to pitch again this season.

In need of first aid
Already playing a man short as Jason Varitek served the final game of his four-game suspension, the Sox faced the Tigers without Doug Mientkiewicz, who injured himself diving into second base Wednesday in Toronto. Mientkiewicz was expected to miss the rest of the four-game series against the Tigers after Morgan diagnosed his injuries as a strained left biceps and a sprained AC joint of the left shoulder.

The former Gold Glove first baseman was scheduled to undergo a precautionary MRI today.

"Could I play? Probably," Mientkiewicz said. "Would it be smart? Absolutely not. If I had to dive for a ball in the hole, I could be right back to square one again. We'll give it a few days to calm down and we'll go from there."

Mientkiewicz said he injured himself in part because he got caught up in the excitement of trying to stretch a single.

"Every time I hit a ball that I think I can beat out, I hear `Chariots of Fire,' " he said. "It's one of those things where you see that ball hit and think it's a double. Then you see it's hit right to him and you're going, `Can't I please catch a break here?' "

Manager Terry Francona said McCarty soon could be ready to serve as a defensive specialist at first in case Mientkiewicz needs more time to recover.

Damon delight
Johnny Damon, who went 2 for 4 with a walk and scored a run, has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games and has scored at least one run in 10 of his last 11 games. He leads the Sox with 47 multihit games . . . With his first stolen base for the Sox, former Dodger Dave Roberts improved to 34 for 35 in steal attempts to lead the majors with a 97.1 percent success rate . . . Bill Mueller (2 for 4) has hit .382 over his last 18 games . . . Bronson Arroyo made his 25th appearance, a career high. He appeared in 24 games for the Pirates in 2001 . . . The Sox beat the Tigers for the seventh straight time at home. Detroit last won at Fenway July 7, 2002.

Double feature
David Ortiz's RBI double in the first inning was his 40th double of the season, a career high (he hit 39 last season). Francona reiterated that Ortiz is more comfortable batting third but needs to remain in the cleanup hole for the good of the team. "It's not wrong for him to feel better about hitting somewhere else," Francona said, "but sometimes you have to put your own personal things on the back burner for the betterment of our ball club." Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have homered in the same game 10 times this season, one shy of the team record set by Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams in 1940 and matched by Jim Rice and George Scott in 1977. The only teammates in the majors who have homered together in more games (11) this season are Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols of the Cardinals . . . With Varitek sidelined, Francona said he would use either Gabe Kapler or Mark Bellhorn last night if he needed an emergency catcher. Kapler said he last caught as a sophomore in high school. Bellhorn said he had never caught in an organized game. As a result, the Sox planned to keep Mirabelli in the game at all costs. Varitek said he was eager to return from his suspension but pleased that Mirabelli had filled in so well for him, as Varitek predicted he would. "We know each other pretty well," he said. They know each other so well, Varitek joked, that they may remain together next season. Both are eligible for free agency in November. "We're a package deal wherever we go," Varitek said . . . The Orioles announced the July 27 rainout against the Sox will be made up Oct. 2 at 1:05 p.m. as the opener of a day-night doubleheader in Baltimore. It remains unclear if the game will be televised. Fox, which has exclusive rights to games at that hour, almost certainly would carry it if were a significant game in the standings. If it were not, NESN could appeal to Major League Baseball to allow them to carry it because of its status as a makeup game. 

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