ST. PETERSBURG -- Though the Red Sox entered Wednesday night second in the American League with 199 runs, manager Bobby Valentine is still trying to figure out who should replace the injured Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot.
Mike Aviles did it for 23 games, but Ryan Sweeney has hit leadoff in the last six games he's started, including Wednesday night.
In those five games, Sweeney hit .174 (4-for-23) with two RBIs and a .208 on-base percentage.
Before moving to leadoff, Sweneey was hitting .355 with a .384 on-base percentage.
Sweeney isn't a big fan of batting first.
"[I'm] not sure he's feeling comfortable at the leadoff spot. I'm not totally comfortable putting him there," Valentine said.
The manager wonders if Sweeney might just be having a natural slump that anyone has after a hot start.
"When you haven't had a lot of success doing something, it's an easy pit to fall into -- saying that there's a reason and when you're hitting .380 and you get down to .320 and it happens to coincide with the time that you're moved somewhere in the order, it's a real simple deduction to make, rather than saying, 'Hey, I'm a .320 hitter and now I'm right where I'm supposed to be, so keep doing it,'" Valentine said. "But I get it -- I totally get it. I've lived it with him and I resisted it at the beginning, as you all know."
How much is Valentine thinking about who should lead off?
"Every minute," Valentine said.
One man who could become a very good option if he keeps hitting is Daniel Nava, who is hitting .533 since being promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket last week.
"Of course, because when a guy has a .700 on-base percentage, I think that's a really good place for him to be," Valentine said.
Asked if Nava might lead off Thursday night against lefty Matt Moore, Valentine said he didn't think so.
Adrian vows to go deep, questions ump
ST. PETERSBURG -- First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has gone 103 at-bats without a home run, but he predicts the drought will end on Thursday -- the one-month anniversary of his last long ball.
"I'll start hitting home runs. I'll hit a home run tomorrow," Gonzalez said after the Red Sox's 2-1 loss to the Rays.
Gonzalez has just two home runs this season, the most recent coming on April 17 against the Rangers at Fenway.
In Wednesday's loss, Gonzalez had a chance to tie the game with a home run in the eighth. Instead, he struck out on five pitches against Joel Peralta. What really irked Gonzalez was the first pitch, a splitter, that was called a strike by home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
"It wasn't even close," Gonzalez said. "You're up there trying to have a professional at-bat and look for a pitch to hit and that's called? Yesterday there were a couple of pitches that weren't close and were called strikes and it put me in two strikes, and then you have to protect. It's just unfortunate. You wish you could keep them on the plate and force them to come in, but that doesn't happen anymore."
Perhaps Gonzalez would be more tolerant of calls like that if his power numbers were up to par.
Does Gonzalez think calls like that have been habitual from umpires this season?
"Not every time," Gonzalez said. "Just at times. When they're good, you can be comfortable up there. You know what the strike zone is. When they're not, you have to go up there and hack. It's frustrating."
Gonzalez knows that arguing with umpires won't win him any favors.
"It doesn't do any good," Gonzalez said. "You say something and then you start letting it get into your head and then it starts messing with your at-bat and your approach and what you're trying to do. You get thrown out -- I'm the one who gets punished for it. It's not him for not making the wrong call."
Slugger David Ortiz was happy to hear the news that Gonzalez was expecting to go deep on Thursday.
"Good. That's good stuff. I can't wait," said Ortiz. "I know my pinata killer is going to be fine. I've got money on him. I've got money on the killer, because I know that pinata at some point is going to have to drop down."
Gonzalez likes to joke with all of his teammates that he hits high pitches out of the park because of all the pinatas he tried to knock down at parties during his youth.
Youk goes 1-for-2 with walk in first rehab game
ST. PETERSBURG -- Third baseman Kevin Youkilis had a solid start to his Minor League rehab on Wednesday night, reaching base in two of his three plate appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket.
Playing at Durham, Youkilis was 1-for-2 with a walk, a double and a run scored.
He served as the designated hitter. Manager Bobby Valentine said that Youkilis will get a day off on Thursday and then play third base for Pawtucket on Friday.
There's no word yet on when Youkilis will join the Red Sox. Prospect Will Middlebrooks has been playing well for Boston while Youkilis has been out with a back injury.
Youkilis, who last played for the Red Sox on April 28, is hitting .219 with two homers and nine RBIs.
Dice-K trying to iron out mechanical flaws
ST. PETERSBURG -- The 30-day Minor League rehab clock that right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka is on will expire after he makes two more starts.
However, manager Bobby Valentine is skeptical that Dice-K will be ready to join Boston's rotation at that point. If that is the case, look for the Red Sox to get creative and find a way for Matsuzaka to keep tuning up once the official rehab clock runs out.
Matsuzaka, who had Tommy John surgery last season, is scheduled to start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday and then again on May 22.
"Right now, I don't think he's all that close to pitching in the Major Leagues," said Valentine. "He might take a big step, [but] not until he's ready. It's not the calendar that's going to dictate whether a guy pitches in the Major Leagues, I don't think."
The problems Matsuzaka is having seem to be mostly mechanical.
"There's a lot of things that you do before you're totally ready, and I'm not sure he's put his elbow situation behind him yet," Valentine said. "I don't think he totally understands where he is with his elbow."
Essentially, Matsuzaka developed some bad habits while pitching through elbow pain last year, so now he's trying to regain his feel again.
"It's just the understanding of why it happened and what he did to pitch while it was hurt, that mechanic, whether or not that mechanic is something he should be using now or if he should go back to the mechanic he was using when he hurt it," Valentine said. "It's a very confusing state. Until he figures that out totally in his mind, competition is going to be confused. He won't be into the competition. We want him to be here, not only to be healthy, but we want him to be in the competition."
Bailey gets encouraging report on thumb
ST. PETERSBURG -- Closer Andrew Bailey got an encouraging report on his surgically repaired right thumb after a visit with Dr. Thomas Graham in Cleveland.
According to manager Bobby Valentine, Graham told Bailey he can start throwing next week.
When Bailey underwent surgery, the assumption was that he'd be out at least until around the All-Star break.
That could still be the case, but don't be surprised if Bailey at least tries to push the envelope.
"Boy, he's been working," said Valentine. "He's one of those guys I'm sure we're going to have to hold him back and proceed in a conservative effort."
Left fielder Carl Crawford (sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow) is also making progress, and he could start swinging the bat around the time the Red Sox start their next homestand on May 25.
The key for Crawford is when he will be able to start throwing.