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Embree ready for action

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Lefthander Alan Embree will pitch today against Baltimore, his first major league appearance in more than a week. Manager Terry Francona said yesterday Embree is "just a little behind. Right now I feel a little more need to keep an eye on Alan."

Francona was responding to a question about the annual workload imposed on Embree and Mike Timlin. Embree, who has professed good health this spring, has made just four appearances, allowing nine hits and five runs over four innings.

General manager Theo Epstein downplayed the speculation that Embree might be injured, saying he pitched in a minor league game a few days ago. Embree, who turned 35 in January, made a career-high 71 appearances last season.

"There were times last year with Embree we went a week without pitching him," Francona said. "I don't know if I said anything. We felt he needed a blow."

Embree went six straight games without pitching last June, then had separate streaks of five and six games in August.

Name's on short list
It's possible, likely even, that Nomar will be spotted in the Red Sox clubhouse this season. But this Nomar is not a .322 career hitter with Hall of Fame credentials. Not yet, anyhow.

Nomar Vazquez is just 10 months old, the son of Sox utility infielder Ramon Vazquez. The little guy is not named for the iconic shortstop.

"With San Diego everyone knew," Vazquez said. "I'm expecting people now that I'm here in Boston to say that."

Like Nomar Garciaparra, Nomar Vazquez received his dad's name, spelled backward.

"I heard the story about Garciaparra," said Vazquez, who was acquired from the Padres in December. "I don't really like my name much. Even a long time ago I figured it out. My name backward would be Nomar.

"I talked to my wife and she liked it. As a man, [Ramon] sounds OK, but for a baby it's too strong."

Cramping his style
Johnny Damon left yesterday's 6-1, rain-shortened loss to Baltimore in the sixth inning after pulling up lame chasing down a three-run double by Luis Matos. Initially, Damon wasn't able to bend his left leg, but he looked to be walking fine by the time he reached the Sox dugout.

"He cramped up," Francona said. "His legs. Calves."

Damon, who missed eight days of action with flu-like symptoms and cellulitis, will play his third straight game today, likely as designated hitter.

Damon, 31, said the club has not approached him or agent Scott Boras about a contract extension. Damon's four-year deal is up at season's end.

"They're notoriously a team that waits until after the season," Damon said. "They know I want to be here. It stinks because they know what kind of shape I can come in [in]. I feel I just hit my prime, mentally as well as physically."

Damon's book, "Idiot: Beating `The Curse' and Enjoying the Game of Life," will be out April 4. That day, an offday in New York, will be a busy one for the center fielder. He will be on "Live with Regis and Kelly" that morning, sign books at the Barnes & Noble in Rockefeller Center midday, then appear on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

Does the hectic schedule bother his manager?

"Nah," Francona said. "There's a pretty good chance he isn't going to be in bed at 9, anyway."

Pouring it on
Baltimore was batting with two outs in the top of the seventh when the game was called because of rain. Sox starter David Wells was touched for six runs on 11 hits and one walk in six innings, including a four-run sixth. Miguel Tejada did the earlier damage with a two-run homer in the third . . . Josias Manzanillo, who was going to have to compete for a bullpen job in Triple A Pawtucket, was offered his release and accepted . . . First baseman Roberto Petagine, who recently had left knee surgery, is not expected to play again until the end of April. Petagine has a clause in his contract allowing him to return to Japan if he's not playing in the big leagues . . . The Sox optioned lefthanders Lenny DiNardo and Mark Malaska to Pawtucket and reassigned catcher/outfielder Jeff Bailey, infielder Tim Hummel, righthander Scott Cassidy, and lefthander Jason Kershner to their minor league camp. DiNardo has only three innings of Triple A experience on his resume, a rehab stint with Pawtucket last season, when he remained on the Sox roster as a Rule 5 player. The Sox want him to be a starter in Pawtucket this season. "We told him he could compete for a lefty specialist [job in Boston], but with no Triple A experience that wouldn't be fair to him or us," Francona said. "He needs to get some experience, slow the game down." . . . Mark Bellhorn struck out swinging in the third inning, his 10th strikeout in 30 spring at-bats . . . Wade Miller threw to hitters for the first time and will do so again before pitching in a minor league game. Miller said he was "excited" but acknowledged that he's still not "all-out right now" with his fastball . . . Jon Papelbon (fourth round, 2003) will start today's game in Fort Lauderdale against Baltimore. "I've never seen this kid," Francona said. "I'm excited. This is worth getting on a bus for a couple hours." . . . Newly acquired righthanded reliever Blaine Neal will join the team today . . . Byung Hyun Kim was scheduled to pitch yesterday before the rain came. "Between the flu and weather B.K. is having a tough time," Francona said. "We need to see him pitch."

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