BOSTON -- Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia could return from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, just in time to play against the White Sox and former teammate Kevin Youkilis, according to Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.

Pedroia has been on the DL with a right thumb strain since July 6, retroactive to July 4, and is making strides in batting practice. He sprayed the ball around Fenway Park on Monday afternoon before Boston's series opener against Chicago.

"He truly feels great and watching him hit, it's different right now," Valentine said. "I think he's on track."

In Valentine's view, Pedroia's swing looks like it did during the first few weeks of the season when the second baseman hit .313 in his first 19 games.

"That's what it looks like and in talking to [Pedroia] today, that's what it feels like, " the manager said.

Pedroia would be the third key Red Sox player to return from injury after the All-Star break. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury rejoined the club after missing three months with a separated shoulder on Friday. Left fielder Carl Crawford made his season debut on Monday.

Gonzalez not hindered by back spasms

BOSTON -- First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is no longer feeling the effects of back spasms that sidelined him for two games against the Rays on Friday and Saturday. That's a good sign for the Red Sox, who lost some depth at first base on Monday by designating utility man Brent Lillibridge for assignment.

The Red Sox need Gonzalez to remain healthy with few options behind him at first base now that Lillibridge is gone. He was let go to make room on the active roster for outfielder Carl Crawford, who made his season debut on Monday against the White Sox.

"[Gonzalez] says he's rested and feels really good," said Boston manager Bobby Valentine. "I would suspect he's ready to play a lot."

Lillibridge filled in at first base on occasion for the Red Sox after they acquired him from the White Sox in the trade that sent third baseman Kevin Youkilis to Chicago. Mauro Gomez also saw time at first, but he was optioned to Triple-A on Saturday. Earlier this season, Youkilis often spelled Gonzalez.

Valentine said on Monday he would consider playing designated hitter David Ortiz at first base in an emergency situation.

"Possibly, if I had to," the manager said. "Nick Punto has played there and has worked out there. [Catcher Jarrod] Saltalamacchia has played first base, it's not like he's never played."