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Face it, Youkilis continues to be a tough out

Umpire Rick Reed was in position, and so was center fielder Coco Crisp, who robbed Jhonny Peralta of a hit in the second inning. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

Kevin Youkilis can keep on hitting, David Ortiz said, but the beard has to go.

"The beard is too ugly," said Ortiz, who returned to the Red Sox lineup last night after a three-game absence. "You tell him I said so."

Youkilis, meanwhile, extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a third-inning single off Indians starter Paul Byrd. His streak is the second longest in the majors this season, one game behind that of Torii Hunter of the Twins. Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners matched Hunter's 23-game streak last night as Seattle played in Anaheim, Calif., against the Angels.

"Be aggressive, but you've got to be patient," Youkilis said of his approach at the plate, and while he may sound like he's contradicting himself, that's not the case. "Be ready to attack," he said, offering a variation on a theme, "but be patient."

Youkilis last season saw 4.42 pitches per plate appearance, the most in the American League. This season, the number has dropped to 4.07, meaning he is not taking pitchers into as many deep counts. That does not mean, however, he is swinging at more first pitches. In fact, Youkilis is swinging at fewer first pitches this season (20 out of 220, or 9 percent), than he did last season (78 out of 683, or 11.4 percent).

Where Youkilis has shown dramatic improvement is in his ability to hit with two strikes. He began last night with a .343 average, third best in the AL and 65 points better than Mike Lowell, the next-highest Sox hitter at .278. Last season, Youkilis led the Sox with a .246 average with two strikes.

"The season's not over," manager Terry Francona said when the praise for Youkilis started getting too thick. "Play the games. You don't know where the guy's going to end up. But he's a terrific hitter. There's no getting around it. He is a good, young, maturing hitter in a really good groove."

Ortiz said the flu symptoms that caused him so much distress actually began during the previous homestand, the Tigers series.

"I didn't want to say anything to anybody, but that's why I didn't play in the second game of the [May 17] doubleheader," he said. "Did you see my face that weekend walking through the clubhouse? I was hurting."

Ortiz said his hamstrings, which had become sore from dehydration, felt much better last night, though he said he had not done the normal running he would do during batting practice.

Ortiz is in the longest home run drought of his career. He has gone 16 games and 56 at-bats without a homer. His last home run came May 9 in Toronto, off Josh Towers.

Futures market
Sox general manager Theo Epstein and scouting director Jason McLeod held an extensive briefing on the June 7 amateur draft. The Sox do not have a first-round pick, having surrendered it to the Dodgers for signing Type A free agent Julio Lugo, but they are choosing 55th, 62d, and 85th.

As Epstein noted, the Sox have found some good players in that range: Jon Lester in 2002 (57th overall), Dustin Pedroia in 2004 (65th), and, in 2005, pitchers Clay Buchholz (42d) and Michael Bowden (47th).

The Sox' big spending last winter on big league free agents, Epstein said, has no impact on the resources they allot for the draft.

"The most important dollars we spend are on building a productive farm system," Epstein said. "Nothing we do on the big league level ever gets in the way of our investment in the future."

Extended stay
The Sox have not decided on the next step for last season's No. 1 pick (28th overall), former University of North Carolina star Daniel Bard, who was sent back to extended spring training after a dreadful start in the Single A California League for the Lancaster JetHawks. Bard went 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA and 22 walks in 13 innings, before being shut down with what was called a triceps strain. He was sent to Fort Myers, Fla., where he has been working on his delivery.

"Daniel is set to throw five innings in extended [today], and we are going to reevaluate it after that outing," said Mike Hazen, the team's director of player development.

The leading options would appear to be sending him to Greenville, a lower Single A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, or keeping him in extended spring until short-season Single A Lowell begins play in mid-June. The team's other No. 1 pick last season, outfielder Jason Place (27th overall), is playing at Greenville.

Rest stop
Lugo was given the night off, with Alex Cora playing shortstop. Lugo had bunt hits in each of his most recent two starts and has 10 infield hits overall, most on the team and tied for fifth in the league. Cora has cooled off considerably, batting .152 (5 for 33) to fall from .432 to .316 . . . Roger Clemens in his YES interview May 6, when he announced his return to the Yankees: "I think by the time that I get back, I think you're going to have a really good idea of what's going on. I mean, you know, I expect the guys'll be rolling really nice by then." On that date, the Yankees were 5 1/2 games behind the Sox. They now trail by 13 1/2 games. Yankees manager Joe Torre, meanwhile, made it official, saying Clemens would make his first major league start this season Monday night in Chicago against the White Sox, and not this weekend at Fenway . . . Francona acknowledged that reliever Mike Timlin (strained shoulder) has struggled in his rehab assignment with Pawtucket. Timlin gave up a run on three hits and a walk Tuesday, but limited the damage by getting three outs with the bases loaded. "He had pretty good arm strength," Francona said, "but he's trying to repeat his delivery consistently." Timlin is scheduled to work an inning tonight in Pawtucket. Francona said he plans to be in attendance, along with pitching coach John Farrell . . . Manny Ramírez turned 35 yesterday . . . The Naples (Fla.) Daily News reports that Nathan's new hot dog stand at Southwest Regional International Airport in Fort Myers is in business. No word yet on whether any members of the Epstein family were in attendance at the grand opening.