Notes: Manny fighting strained oblique

Notes: Manny fighting strained oblique

NEW YORK -- Manny Ramirez strolled through the Red Sox's clubhouse late Wednesday afternoon and stopped when a reporter asked him how his back was. The slugger, who barely talks to the media, simply made a thumbs-up sign. Asked if it would be a couple of more days, Ramirez, who was in the middle of chewing some food, said, "Um hmmmm."

A little bit after that, the Red Sox issued the actual diagnosis. Ramirez has a strained left oblique.

His return to the lineup is uncertain, but it will likely be at least a few days before his big bat resurfaces.

"It's [part] of your thunder," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "When your cleanup hitter goes down like that, it hurts you. It doesn't matter how much of a lead you have. It's hard to replace a cleanup hitter."

Oblique injuries can linger and are also unpredictable, which is why the Red Sox made no estimate on when their cleanup hitter will be back in the lineup.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez hopes Ramirez doesn't rush back.

"Keep him out all of September," said A-Rod. "That would be great. Manny's a good friend, but it's nice to see him sit on the bench with some of my other friends."

With Ramirez out of action, Mike Lowell hit cleanup on Wednesday night. Eric Hinske played left field and batted ninth.

Kielty getting there: Backup outfielder Bobby Kielty is also in the midst of back woes and had to come out of Tuesday night's game one inning after he subbed for Ramirez.

Kielty's back has been bothering him since Aug. 18, when he slammed into the wall in his first start for the Red Sox. He underwent X-rays and an MRI on Wednesday, both of which came back negative.

"Everything came back good, and it's soft tissue, which means it's musculature, which means he can get treatment and play when he can handle it, which, I think by all accounts, if he needed to tonight, he could," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Wednesday. "I'd rather not, but I don't think it would be a problem."

Francona sent Kielty back to the team hotel during Wednesday's game.

"He was still not able to play tonight, so we sent him back to the hotel," Francona said. "He wasn't going to play. There was no reason to have him sit on that bench and have his back tighten up worse. It was tight."

Fortunately for the Red Sox, rosters will be expanded on Saturday. Given the injuries in the outfield, it seems logical that top prospect Jacoby Ellsbury will be among the first callups. Francona said that the club will wait until Triple-A Pawtucket's season ends on Sept. 3 to make some of the callups.

Breaking down Matsuzaka: One man who has seen Daisuke Matsuzaka at his best is Kazuhiro Takeda, who served as the pitching coach for Japan during the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. Matsuzaka was the MVP of that tournament.

Takeda, who is in town for this Red Sox-Yankees series as a broadcaster for NHK-Japan, conceded that Matsuzaka can pitch far better than he did on Tuesday in suffering a 5-3 loss.

"That's not even half of what he can do," said Takeda, who conversed with Matsuzaka earlier on Wednesday. "The season is long over here, and he's getting quite tired, but I think he's trying to save himself for later [in the season] also."

Yankees Coverage
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Yanks gear up for lesser opponents
Chamberlain springs curve on Sox
Notes: Peace of mind for Posada

Red Sox Coverage
Schilling's gem ends with loss
Bauman: Game mirrors Classic duel
Sox don't take lead for granted
Notes: Matsuzaka pushed back
Season Series
Yankees win 10-8
• 9/16: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
• 9/15: Red Sox 10,Yankees 1
• 9/14: Yankees 8, Red Sox 7
Previous season series
2006: Yankees 11, Red Sox 8
2005: Yankees 10, Red Sox 9
2004: Red Sox 11, Yankees 8

Takeda also noted some mechanical flaws in Matsuzaka's delivery.

"When he gets into bad habits, he lowers his shoulder and his elbow, like more pushing instead of throwing," Takeda said.

Did Matsuzaka do that against the Yankees?

"Last night, he had good form and bad form," Takeda said.

Takeda is also familiar with Hideki Okajima, Takeda's teammate on the 2002 Yomiuri Giants. Is he surprised by how well Okajima has pitched for the Red Sox?

"Everyone in Japan is surprised," Takeda said. "The good thing about him now is the release point is the same for all his pitches. He has good control now."

Tavarez likely for Saturday: Though the Red Sox haven't announced a starter for Saturday, Julian Tavarez will probably get the nod. Tavarez threw a bullpen session before Wednesday's game, though the rubber-armed righty said he still hasn't heard if he's getting another start. Tavarez pitched well in Chicago last Sunday, giving up two hits and one run over six innings.

Red Sox spokesman John Blake indicated that Clay Buchholz will not be starting on Saturday, as had been speculated. It appears that the only reason the club hasn't announced Tavarez is in the event that it needs him out of the bullpen in this series against the Yankees.

Jon Lester, who was optioned back to the Minor Leagues for one start so that lefty reliever Javy Lopez could rejoin the team, will make his return to the rotation on Sunday.

Timlin closes in on milestone: Mike Timlin recorded four outs in Wednesday's loss as he closed in on a significant milestone. Timlin's next appearance will be No. 1,000 of his career.

Timlin will become the 13th pitcher to work in that many games.

Gagne tipping pitches? When Eric Gagne went into a tailspin after being traded to the Red Sox, the right-hander and pitching coach John Farrell dissected video in search of a solution. According to a story in the Boston Herald, he might have found one.

"We've reviewed film very extensively, and we felt like there were some things he might be doing which would indicate the pitch he was throwing," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell told the newspaper. "To alleviate that, we made some subtle adjustments."

Entering Wednesday, Gagne has been unscored on in his last four outings.

Coming up: Curt Schilling (8-5, 4.11 ERA) will face Chien-Ming Wang (14-6, 4.10) on Thursday in the finale of this three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.

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