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Notes: Ortiz strides toward MVP

Notes: Ortiz strides toward MVP

CHICAGO -- Fifth place in 2003. Fourth place in 2004. Second place in 2005. That is how David Ortiz fared in the American League MVP race his first three years in Boston. Could this be the year Ortiz takes that final nudge forward that would lead him to carting home that trophy he's been on the verge of winning for the last few years?

The numbers indeed suggest that this could wind up being Ortiz's year. With 30 homers and 84 RBIs entering Saturday's contest, Ortiz was on pace to belt 58 longbballs and drive in 163 runs.

That would even top the monster year he had in 2005, when he hit 47 homers and had 148 RBIs.

As always with Ortiz, the debate of a DH winning the MVP is sure to come up in the coming months. Last year, Ortiz had the misfortune of going up against a brilliant all-around player who had similar power numbers in Alex Rodriguez.

"The DH probably has to do something fairly extraordinary and David just about did last year," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "All his walkoffs and things like [that] get him some national attention and just brings to light the numbers he's putting up."

Francona does not think Ortiz -- who will start at first base for the American League All-Star team -- should be penalized simply because he is only asked to break out his glove nine or 10 times a year.

"He could go out there and play first, he could get a ton more votes, but we wouldn't be as good a team," Francona said. "That doesn't seem right. We need to use [Kevin] Youkilis. It's an art to sit and not kill yourself [mentally] and stay in the game. He's actually OK [defensively], but as a designated hitter, it's actually the perfect position. We're trying to build our team the best way we know how."

Varitek gets a breather: For just the fourth game this season, Jason Varitek was not in the lineup in a game started by someone other than knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. The reason Doug Mirabelli caught Josh Beckett on Saturday was nothing more than a case of Francona trying to preserve the energy of his captain and starting catcher.

The Red Sox did not arrive to Chicago until the wee hours of Friday morning. Saturday's game started at 12:25 p.m. CT, making it an unusually quick turnaround from Friday night's game.

"I think the best thing to do is to play Dougie," Francona said. "We can always hit for Dougie maybe earlier than we normally would, I just think, last night, the [White Sox] flip-flopped the other way, [resting A.J. Pierzynski]. I just think it makes sense. So, doing that, we'll put [Alex] Cora at short, give us the left-handed bat to kind of balance it."

Gonzalez rests hot bat: Even a four-hit game on Friday was not enough to get Alex Gonzalez back in the lineup on Saturday. Francona has been doing his best to keep Cora fresh and he's been getting good production from both of his shortstops of late.

"I'm sure after last night he wanted to get up today and play, because he's that type of player. He's an everyday player," Francona said of Gonzalez. "I just think playing Cora enough [is important]; we've got to keep him sharp. And I think it really helps. I think it's helped everybody. Give [Mark] Loretta the rare day off and give Gonzi a couple, I think it makes us a better team."

Gonzalez's improvement at the plate has been one of the unheralded stories for the Red Sox in the first half. On May 21, Gonzalez was hitting .197. After Friday's game, he was at .284.

"Isn't that great? I'm so proud of him. He didn't bail," Francona said. "He's kind of [like Mark] Bellhorn, I think he was in a hole, [he'd] laugh and [only] his lip twitched. He's quiet, he doesn't say much. But just by his body language, he looks like he's a lot more comfortable. I'm sure he is."

Boomer still working: Left-hander David Wells has not advanced past baby steps in his attempt to return to the mound after taking that vicious line drive off his surgically repaired right knee on May 26.

"He's trying though, I give him credit," Francona said. "He's taping it up now, trying to get enough support without wearing that big brace. He had a little success with it the first time so I think he'll continue to try it. His arm feels so good. I appreciate him trying because it would be easy for him to give up. But because he's a left-handed guy who can win baseball games, I'm glad he's still trying to [come back]."

Francona knows how hard it can be to come back after experiencing that much trauma in the knee.

"My last at-bat, I was in Triple-A Spring Training," Francona said. "I actually fouled a ball off my knee, hard. I stepped out, it blew up right away. They took X-Rays, but I was done, I could never play again."

A reason to smile: The reason -- besides the obvious -- for the big grin on Coco Crisp's face after snapping that 0-for-23 drought with a bloop hit to right field on Friday night?

"The reason why I smiled is because I was watching it so long, I almost over-ran the bag," said Crisp. "I didn't make a turn, I just kept kind of kept running. Usually you want to make a turn there, but I just hit the bag and kind of turned and was like, uh, I guess it shows that I haven't done this in a while."

Coming up: Ace Curt Schilling (10-3, 3.63 ERA) draws the final start of the first half for the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon as he opposes undefeated White Sox right-hander Jose Contreras (9-0, 3.31 ERA).

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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