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Muscle still missing from lineup

A familiar ritual: David Ortiz takes off his elbow wrap before taking a seat, having struck out for the second of three times. A familiar ritual: David Ortiz takes off his elbow wrap before taking a seat, having struck out for the second of three times. (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)

TORONTO - Manny Ramírez missed his 20th straight game with a strained left oblique, with rookie Brandon Moss playing left field last night against the Blue Jays. The Sox were without three regulars: Kevin Youkilis (wrist), Coco Crisp (back), and Ramírez.

"I spent some time talking with Manny," manager Terry Francona said after the 4-3 loss. "He went out and ran [Monday]; he feels it. If I could push a button and make it go away, I would. He kind of said the same thing. It's not gone away. He's dying to play, he's working hard. He says it's not there."

Francona said Ramírez feels discomfort when he swings, too.

"He can feel it all the time," said the manager. "I think we're all concerned, when he can swing, he'll be OK, but the running didn't go as well. There are still some pitches I think he feels like if he would let it go, [it would aggravate the injury]. He's still swinging, and when he does feel better, it'll come quick, but he's not there."

Ramírez took batting practice again, as he has done the last seven days, testing one of the most vexing injuries an athlete can incur. Padres left fielder Scott Hairston, who went on the disabled list Aug. 10 with a strained left oblique and was reactivated Sept. 8, told reporters, "I've never had a harder injury to read."

The oblique muscles - there are external and internal obliques on both sides - cross diagonally near the midsection and are all involved in movements of bending to the side and twisting the waist. The left oblique, which originates at the ribs and connects to the pelvis, allows the torso to twist to the right. For a hitter, it is a muscle used to transfer the power generated by the hips into a swing.

The injury seems to be occurring with greater frequency in baseball. Orioles lefthander Erik Bedard, considered by many a Cy Young candidate, shut down for the season with a strained oblique. Yankees outfielder Bobby Abreu missed three weeks in spring training, while Tampa Bay third baseman Akinori Iwamura missed over a month. When he was first injured, said Iwamura, it hurt to brush his teeth.

Perhaps the hitter closest to Ramírez in stature to have sustained a strained oblique is Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, who was hurt while making a fielding play in June 2006. Pujols went on the DL for the first time in his career. He was diagnosed with a Grade 3 strain, a complete tear, and doctors estimated he would miss a month to six weeks. Pujols was placed on the DL June 4; he was back playing June 22, six days after taking ground balls, five days after swinging off a tee, and two days after taking live BP.

Pujols went hitless in his first game back, then proceeded to hit .419 (18 for 43) in his next 10 games, with 3 home runs and 8 RBIs. He had two four-hit games in that span.

"I'm glad it didn't happen swinging the bat," Pujols said at the time, "because that would be worse. It would be scary coming back knowing I did it swinging, because then I wouldn't want to take a swing."

Pitcher switcher

Francona said he misspoke Monday night in laying out the pitching rotation for this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the Devil Rays. Josh Beckett goes Friday and Daisuke Matsuzaka Saturday - just as he'd said - but Tim Wakefield will pitch Sunday, with Curt Schilling held back until next Tuesday at home against the Athletics (Monday is an off day). Francona said it has less to do with Wakefield's dominance in the dome than with the desire to give Schilling extra rest, much like Matsuzaka is getting, and keeping him from having too long a layoff once the playoffs begin . . . Francona would not detail what limits will be placed on rookie Clay Buchholz tonight when he makes his first start since his no-hitter Sept. 1. "A lot depends on how he's throwing, the score of the game," Francona said. "Let's see how far he can go." That should not be construed, however, as the Sox letting Buchholz go nine.

Eager but not ready

Youkilis played catch for about 15 minutes yesterday with trainer Paul Lessard but has yet to swing a bat since getting hurt, so it's highly unlikely he'll play tonight. "The off day [tomorrow] will definitely help," said Youkilis, who said the swelling in his wrist has gone down but has settled in the area of his thumb. "It's another day. I just want to get back out there and play. I don't want to be out there where I can't swing or can't do something or not be able to throw a ball when we need to make a play at second base or something like that. I don't want to hurt this team, [but] I want to be out there as soon as possible. I've also got to be smart and know if I hurt this team in any way by going out there and not being able to throw a ball, that's not a good thing, either." . . . In case you were wondering, Jacoby Ellsbury is not jeopardizing his status for Rookie of the Year consideration in 2008. The cutoff for eligibility is 130 at-bats the previous season . . . Jason Varitek's second-inning single broke an 0-for-18 slump.

Fall ball for Hansen

Reliever Craig Hansen will play in the Arizona Fall League, somewhat unusual in that he already has played in the major leagues and the fall league is developmental. But Ben Cherington, the Sox vice president/player personnel, said Hansen has embraced the assignment, in part because his innings were somewhat limited in Pawtucket this summer; he missed three weeks in August with forearm tenderness and threw just 51 1/3 innings after throwing 85 innings between the minors and majors in 2006. Hansen also is planning to undergo a surgical procedure for apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by prolonged pauses in breathing. Also added to the Mesa roster in Arizona was catcher Dusty Brown and first baseman/outfielder Chris Carter, the player acquired in the Wily Mo Peña deal. They join pitchers Daniel Haigwood, Hunter Jones, and Jose Vaquedano, plus infielder Jed Lowrie. Infielder Aaron Bates and pitcher Kyle Jackson, originally slated to go, have been scratched, Bates because of a staph infection he developed in Portland at the end of the season and Jackson because of some forearm tenderness, though Cherington said Jackson probably could have pitched. Cherington said 2006 first-rounder Daniel Bard will pitch out of the bullpen in the Hawaii Winter League as the club works to restore his confidence and command. Fellow first-rounder Jason Place will play in Miami, where the manager will be Mike Cather, the Double A pitching coach. Cather will have players from the Chiba Lotte Marines on his roster, as part of the working agreement the Marines, who play in Japan's Pacific League, struck this year with the Sox.

Amalie Benjamin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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