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Notes: Manny gets a breather

Notes: Manny gets a breather

CHICAGO -- Call Sunday a maintenance day off for Manny Ramirez. Earlier this week, the star slugger had some back stiffness and didn't play on Wednesday night against the Rays. So after playing three games in two days this weekend, Red Sox manager Terry Francona gave Ramirez another breather.

This one comes at a good time, considering the Red Sox don't play on Monday. That should leave Ramirez in a fresh state for the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, which starts Tuesday.

Ramirez has always loved hitting in the Bronx, where he has 26 homers in 360 at-bats.

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"Just need to balance out everybody playing enough and not too much," said Francona. "We've got a day off tomorrow. His back was bothering him the other day. I told him I'd check with him this morning when he got up and I just think it makes sense."

Incidentally, it has been a while since Ramirez has put one into the cheap seats. He's been stuck at 489 home runs since Aug. 5, a span of 70 at-bats.

With Ramirez out of the lineup, Bobby Kielty, fresh off his four-RBI performance on Saturday, started in left field. Mike Lowell moved to the cleanup spot. J.D. Drew returned to the No. 5 spot in the order.

Drew ends drought: Drew at last ended the longest home run drought of his career when he lofted a Javier Vazquez pitch over the wall in left-center for a solo shot in the second inning on Sunday. Drew had gone 51 games and 166 at-bats since last going deep in Atlanta on June 20.

That stat is slightly skewed, however, because Drew did hit a ball over Fenway Park's Green Monster on July 20 against the White Sox. However, that homer was taken away when the umpiring crew mistakenly thought the ball was not hit high enough before it caromed back into play.

Speaking of Drew, he has been sitting against almost all left-handed pitchers of late. However, Francona said not to rule out Drew still playing at times against lefties. Earlier in the season, Drew played quite a bit against southpaws.

"We'll see," Francona said. "[Andy] Pettitte is pitching in New York [Tuesday]. I could see J.D. playing that game. I think we try to put the best lineup out there. At the beginning of the year, I think that, if you put yourself in my shoes, you're bringing a guy in, you give guys chances to show what they can do."

Lowell thriving: How high a level is Lowell playing at this season? Consider that with 92 RBIs, he already has 12 more than he had in all of 2006. And Lowell had 573 at-bats last year, and was at 463 this season going into Sunday's game.

"He's a good hitter," Francona said. "You've got to keep everything in perspective. Last year, you guys were asking me, 'Why is he falling off?' He goes in streaks. It's all part of the game. That's the way the game is, or guys would hit .400. It doesn't really happen. You run into bad luck, you run into flaws in your swing, you run into pitches that are being made. It's all a bunch of things. Finding holes."

Kielty over Hinske: Francona had an interesting choice when making his lineup for Sunday. Should the left-handed hitting Eric Hinske start in place of Ramirez, or switch-hitting Kielty, who is a better hitter from the right side?

Francona opted to go with Kielty, even though righty Javier Vazquez was pitching for the White Sox.

"He's actually taken some pretty good swings," Francona said. "I know his strength is right-handed. I think he's actually taken some pretty good swings left-handed. [Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson] kind of reiterated that before he came here. 'Don't feel like you have to run away from him left-handed.'"

Coming up: Daisuke Matsuzaka (13-10, 3.76 ERA) will open the three-game showdown in New York when he faces Pettitte (11-7, 3.69 ERA) on Tuesday night at 7:05 ET. It will be the second matchup between them, as Matsuzaka beat Pettitte at Yankee Stadium on April 27.

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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