This squad provides shots of relief

By Ben Collins
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2009
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Yesterday's game called for a clarification of Mark Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli's jointly-run Rescue Squad - a self-appointed nickname for the Red Sox' bench and cast of relievers. Membership includes a handprinted T-shirt.

"Once you're in the Rescue Squad, you can't get out," Kotsay said after Boston's 6-3 loss to Texas, talking about now-starting shortstop Nick Green. "And no matter what happens, you get to keep the T-shirt."

Good thing. Because although there will be no alterations to Kotsay's wardrobe over the next couple of games, there might be some changes in playing time.

Kotsay homered and singled off an otherwise unhittable Vicente Padilla in Kotsay's first start since last season after back and calf injuries. The outfielder's first home run as a Red Sox was a boost for a stagnant lineup, but it might prove to be a necessary injection to an ailing outfield.

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder sliding into second base in the third.

He aggravated the shoulder diving for a ball on the warning track in the top of the fourth. He made the catch, but now he's day-to-day.

"There was a sharp pain when I slid into second, but I think the dive made it worse," Ellsbury said. "If I can play through it, I'll play through it. But it's one of those things where I don't want to make things worse."

"It was a spectacular play," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Structurally, he's OK. They said it was a sprain and it didn't seem like anything worse."

Baldelli went to right in the fifth, as Kotsay, who moved to center, already had started in place of J.D. Drew, whose sore left shoulder kept him out of the final two games of the series. Drew is expected to return tomorrow against the Yankees.

But if Ellsbury can't go tomorrow, Kotsay's performance yesterday against Padilla might warrant a start against New York's A.J. Burnett - a righthander like Padilla - in the series opener.

"It's a nice feeling on a day when things aren't going our way to have a guy like Mark who you know is going to go out and play professionally," said Francona.

If Francona's words seemed tempered - there was a long pause before he decided on "professionally" as his description of choice - it's because he knows what to expect from the 33-year-old Kotsay.

"I know he's not 22 anymore," Francona said. "But he's worked hard and you can tell."

Mature was another word Francona could have used. Kotsay knows the only thing that really matters in the clubhouse is winning. "I had my two hits, but they were meaningless," he said, "because we didn't win."

But even Kotsay hopes that all of that can be done while Ellsbury is on the field.

Though Kotsay, who up until this year was a starter, would see more time if his teammates are ailing, that's not what he's looking for.

"Hopefully," Kotsay said, "[Ellsbury's] healthy."

His shirt would seem a little disingenuous otherwise.

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