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Agent: Crisp will crack Sox' lineup soon

Coco Crisp, who has been out with a fractured finger and kidney stones, is no doubt tired of hanging around the dugout.
Coco Crisp, who has been out with a fractured finger and kidney stones, is no doubt tired of hanging around the dugout. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

PHILADELPHIA -- Coco Crisp's return to the Red Sox lineup was set back when he required surgery last week to alleviate a painful kidney stone condition that developed complications. But his agent said yesterday the center fielder has ''started to swing the bat a little bit" and that Crisp should be back ''in a relatively short period of time."

Crisp's agent, Steve Comte, said yesterday he was not in a position to be more specific about when Crisp would resume playing, but one club source thinks Crisp will be back by the end of the month. By that timetable, Crisp could begin a rehab assignment, presumably in Pawtucket, next week. Because of the surgery, which involved the insertion of a stent, Crisp missed several days of rehabilitation on his fractured left index finger; otherwise, he might already be back.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was involved yesterday in planning meetings for next month's amateur draft and was not available for comment.

''Coco said his hand is feeling much better, he's going in for treatment every day, and he feels he is making significant progress," Comte said. ''He suffered an unfortunate setback, but hopefully he should be back very soon.

''No one is rushing him on this. Coco very much wants to be on the field, but this is one of those injuries that simply needs time to heal."

Crisp played in the team's first five games, hitting safely in all (8 for 24, .333) before getting injured on a slide into third base during an unsuccessful stolen base attempt, as he broke before Orioles pitcher Bruce Chen threw to the plate. He sustained a fracture when he slid into the bag feet first, after considering going headfirst, landing awkwardly on his hand.

Entering this weekend's series against the Phillies, Crisp has missed 33 games, and almost certainly will miss a quarter of the season before returning to the lineup. The only other time Crisp was on the disabled list was last May, when he sustained a sprained right thumb, an injury originally feared to be more serious, and missed 13 games for the Indians.

The Sox are 19-14 in Crisp's absence, and Kevin Youkilis, who has batted leadoff in Crisp's place, has done about all a team could ask of its leadoff man. His on-base percentage of .430 out of the leadoff spot is the highest in the majors for any player with at least 100 plate appearances (the National League leader is former Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez, at .406).

A valued trait among leadoff hitters is the ability to make the opposing pitcher throw sufficient pitches to allow the rest of the lineup to get a look at what he's throwing. Youkilis ranks second to Yankees slugger Jason Giambi in pitches seen per at-bat (4.51). He also is fourth in the league in percentage of pitches taken, 63.8.

But Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Youkilis will be dropped in the order and Crisp, who gives the team the added dimension of speed, will be back in the top spot when he returns.

''Youk's style of hitter, he's a high on-base guy, but he also can hit a home run and he doesn't care where he hits," Francona said. ''There may be times during this year when he takes a spot in the order because of an injury -- and I'm not saying he's going to hit ninth, eighth, seventh, sixth -- but he might hit first for a while, he might hit sixth for a while, but things change, and you can plug him in and restore order to your batting order.

''As long as Coco's healthy, he's going to be a run-scorer. Youkilis, we can take advantage of both. Put Youks down in the order, and all of a sudden we have a long lineup, a thick lineup.

''I believe in the on-base. I don't want just the speed. I'll put the speed below and let him run. But Coco can get on, too. He's a good hitter."

For all the talk of how much offense the Sox sacrificed to put a greater emphasis on pitching and defense, the offense has been similar to last season's team. The Sox are hitting .274, the same average they had through May 18 last season. They're averaging 5.4 runs, slightly below last season's average (5.6), but have hit home runs at roughly the same pace (41 in 38 games this season, 45 in 40 games last season).

''I don't think it's ever a bad thing to have a surplus of guys swinging the bat well," third baseman Mike Lowell said when asked about the impact Crisp's return would have. ''It's going to cut into someone's playing time -- probably Wily Mo [Peña's] and Trot [Nixon's] because they're also outfielders.

''But I think we're going to be upgraded offensively, in the sense that we're going to add that stolen-base threat. Youks has done a great job as leadoff hitter. He's been getting on base at a great clip, but he's not a base-stealing threat, which Coco really brings. That will be an added dimension for us. I think that's a good thing."

The Sox have 12 stolen bases this season (two by Crisp), which ranks them 12th in the American League.

''You look at it as an addition," second baseman Mark Loretta said. ''Coco can do a lot of things."

For now, most of what Crisp has done, outside of his rehab, has been non-baseball related. Comte said Crisp is scheduled to shoot a spot for Kellogg's next week, the inevitable tie-in to Cocoa Krispies finally coming to pass, at least on a local basis. There are also spots for Hood and Friendly's, Comte said, though he's turned down offers from ESPN Radio and NESN.

Crisp, who days after he was hurt came to terms on a three-year contract extension (club option for 2010) that guarantees him $15.5 million, also told Comte his new home on the North Shore was unaffected by last week's flooding. ''He said he's high and dry," Comte said.

And a few more steps closer to playing.

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