"He's doing a good job," said Francona. "Maybe by the beginning of [next] week is somewhat realistic. But again, we just don't know. He is making a lot of progress and he's doing a good job."
Friday marked the 16th consecutive game that Ramirez was out of the lineup due to the strained left oblique he suffered against the Yankees on Aug. 28.
"He came by [during Thursday's off-day] and did a good job," said Francona. "[He] swung the bat well. He is making a lot of progress, and he's doing a good job. But again, because of his ability to hit, he hits a ball off the wall [in batting practice] and everybody thinks he should be playing. There's a difference between taking swings in a controlled environment, then going to BP and then going to a game. It's just not realistic that you can let somebody do that. I wish it were."
Could Ramirez be used as a pinch-hitter this weekend?
"You could tell [Yankees manager] Joe [Torre], 'Yes,'" quipped Francona. "If you see him out there, he's hitting. But if one of you guys wants to go over there and tell Joe he's standing over there ready, I'd appreciate it. I don't know. We'll see."
So perhaps Ramirez will be back in there at Toronto on Monday night, when the Sox open a three-game series against the Blue Jays. But Francona made no promises.
"It's not even fair to him to put a day on it," Francona said. "The guy came in on his off-day and then, because he hit the ball so far, it's, 'Why is he not playing?' He wasn't expected to play today. He needs to do some more things."
Coco scratched, Ellsbury in: Center fielder Coco Crisp was in Friday's original starting lineup, but he was scratched shortly before game time with tightness in his left hip.
The start was Ellsbury's first taste of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. Ellsbury missed Wednesday's game with soreness in his right wrist.
"I think he's fine," Francona said.
Donnelly appears: Right-handed reliever Brendan Donnelly, who has been rehabbing in Arizona from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, was back in the clubhouse before Friday's game.
Donnelly will work out with the Boston training staff for a bit. The best-case scenario for the right-hander is for him to pitch by the second half of the 2008 season.
"It's a long, slow, methodical process, Tommy John surgery," said Donnelly. "Every month has a stage, and right now, I'm at stage 2."
Downplaying Joba: Predictably, the Red Sox had nothing inflammatory to say about the last time the teams met, when Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain threw two pitches over the head of Kevin Youkilis.
Chamberlain wound up serving a two-game suspension for the matter.
"I've given that no thought," Francona said. "I don't know. I think those things that happen [just] happen. I think you get a little aggravated at the time, and then you move on and play baseball. I think we're better at moving on than probably [the media]. We don't spend much time thinking about it."
Familiar face weighs in: The Yankees trailed the Red Sox by 14 1/2 games in the American League East on May 29, but they were just 5 1/2 off the pace entering this series. Of course, back in 1978, the Yankees came all the way back from a 14-game deficit to Boston and wound up winning the World Series.
However, Fred Lynn -- the center fielder for the 1978 Sox -- sees no similarities between the two situations.
"This Red Sox team wins by pitching," Lynn said. "We didn't. We swung the bats. If somebody got hurt in our lineup, it was a [big problem]. It doesn't happen here. They're not going to go into a long slump, because with that five-man rotation, they're not going to lose two in a row, each of them. They're too good.
"They win a lot of tight games. And with [relievers Hideki] Okajima and [Jonathan] Papelbon, we didn't have that either. We just outslugged you. We had more trouble on the road, but we won like gangbusters here. They're not a big home run team. They can win on the road."
Lynn, the AL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player for the pennant-winning Red Sox of 1975, is in town to market Red Sox and Yankees rivalry MasterCards through Bank of America.
Fans can get the cards with either a Red Sox or Yankees logo.
"All of New England is going to have these," said Lynn. "Apparently, they are going right out the door."
Coming up: In a matchup of top AL Cy Young Award candidates, Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett (18-6, 3.27 ERA) will be opposed by Yankees righty Chien-Ming Wang (18-6, 3.69 ERA) in Saturday's middle game of this three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 3:55 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.