Notes: Manny remains sidelined

Notes: Manny remains sidelined

ST. PETERSBURG -- The long-awaited return of star slugger Manny Ramirez does not figure to occur this weekend under the roof of Tropicana Field. Instead, look for Ramirez to take his first game swings since Aug. 28 at some point over the final homestand of the season, which starts on Tuesday against the A's.

"I'd say it's unlikely," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said when asked about Ramirez's weekend availability. "That's probably the best answer, yeah. If you would have asked me a week ago, we were all getting so optimistic. But I don't see it happening."

The setback came a few days ago when Ramirez still felt tenderness in his ailing left oblique while running in Toronto.

"He was doing such a good job with some of his core work, and watching him do it, it's hard not to get excited," Francona said. "Then we went outside and it grabbed at him. We've been through this with [Mike] Timlin. When it grabs, just slow down."

Of course, in an ideal world, Ramirez would be back in the lineup for several games to get his swing back in tune before the postseason.

"If I had my choice, you would have all your players always with a bunch of games under their belt," said Francona. "In saying that, sometimes you just hope a guy comes in and gets locked in. Everybody has seen it both ways. A guy misses Spring Training and then comes out and rakes. Then there's the guy that gets hot in Spring Training at the start of the season and doesn't hit. I don't know that the formula is not playing, but that doesn't mean it can't be successful."

Besides, Ramirez is in a bit of a different class because of his sheer impact on a lineup.

"And the other thing is, him sitting in that four-hole -- I don't care if it's Christmas day or the middle of the year," said Francona, "pitchers aren't going to run up there to face him."

Intrigue continues with Buchholz: The Red Sox still have not elaborated on their plans with top pitching prospect Clay Buchholz for the rest of the way. Buchholz had an abbreviated spot start Wednesday night against the Blue Jays, throwing 68 pitches. Will he start again, or is now the time for him to fully begin the transition to the bullpen so that he can play a role there in October?

"I think we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do," Francona said.

Rays manager Joe Maddon was the bench coach for the Angels in 2002 when Francisco Rodriguez went from top prospect to untouchable reliever in the middle of a World Series run.

"Even when he came up in September, there was trepidation to put him into those moments," Maddon said. "After his first moment in there, he did so well, then it became less difficult to try it again, and then he kind of got hot with the whole thing, so then it became easier. I think the most difficult is the first step, applying it to that situation that matters and seeing how he reacts to it. And then once he gets beyond that and you do as a staff, then you could have something."

The one big similarity Buchholz would have with Rodriguez from back then -- aside from electric stuff -- is the unfamiliarity factor.

"Yeah, that's very advantageous," Maddon said. "They have no idea what this guy is going to look like. They're not going to get to see him. The guys that get a chance to see him may be spread out over the course of a couple of games. They might get two looks at him in a five-game series -- maybe."

Five years later, it is still somewhat stunning what Rodriguez accomplished while fueling the Angels to that World Series championship.

"Quite frankly, I don't know if we could have won it without him," said Maddon.

Bumps and bruises report: Center fielder Coco Crisp (back) was cleared to return to the lineup, but first baseman Kevin Youkilis was out for a fifth straight game with a right wrist contusion.

"He's getting better, but he's not ready to play," Francona said of Youkilis.

Youkilis hit off a tee before Friday's game and it's not out of the realm of possibility he could surface at some point this weekend.

With so many others ailing, David Ortiz, who has played with right knee woes all year, was not about to take a night off. This, even though Scott Kazmir had held Ortiz to five hits in 34 at-bats entering this one.

"[I] talked to him a couple of times this morning," Francona said. "He wanted to play, which didn't surprise me. I still wanted to check with him to see how he's doing."

Lefty reliever Hideki Okajima, who is in the middle of a shutdown period so that he can get strong for the postseason, had a productive workout before the game.

"He had a good day, a real good day," Francona said. "[He] got out to 120 [feet], with good arm strength. [His] range of motion is real good. He's doing exactly what we want him to do, and the results are starting to show, which will be very good."

The way Okajima's program is structured, he will next pitch in a game on Thursday night, when the Red Sox open a season-ending four-game series against the Twins.

Balancing act: With their lead in the American League East down to 1 1/2 games entering Friday, Francona confirmed that the goal was still to win the division, even though a postseason berth is all but wrapped up.

"Our goal playing this year was to win the division and then go further and see how far you can go and hopefully win a World Series," Francona said. "Now that we've put together the last four days, things haven't gone very well. I don't want to start changing my answers. Winning the division is huge. It's important. Does it mean you're going to win the World Series? No. Does it mean you're not? No. Shoot, the competitiveness in all of us wants to win everything we ever do."

Francona then explained the balancing act, which hasn't been easy of late.

"At the same time, I'm not going to sacrifice our chances of playing further on," Francona said. "We tell [the media] what we think we need to tell you and there's some things we probably don't. I, and we, will do what's in our best interest all the time. Sometimes you have to scuffle through a little while; we kind of limped through Toronto. I'd rather never do that, but I'd rather limp then [and not] a couple of weeks from now. That was what was going to happen if we don't start getting these guys healthy."

Coming up: Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (14-12, 4.41 ERA) will pitch for the first time since Sept. 14 when he takes the ball on Saturday night. The Devil Rays counter with righty Andy Sonnanstine (6-9, 5.68 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 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.