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Spin Forward: Sox lose Youkilis' bat

Spin Forward: Sox lose Youkilis' bat

BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona is going to have one superior pinch-hitter available on his bench on Saturday. Kevin Youkilis, relegated to the bench, can start a rally, prolong one, or deliver runs with one swing of the bat.

It's not what Francona would prefer. He'd rather have Youkilis in his starting lineup. But pitchers bat in National League ballparks, so someone from the regular Red Sox starting nine has to go to the bench. That's Youkilis, as David Ortiz moves from designated hitter to first base.

The Red Sox put runner after runner on base through two games of the World Series. The Sox demolished Rockies pitching in Game 1 with their take-and-rake approach. Even in Game 2, when they were held to two runs, they got to the Colorado bullpen and ran through it. They were about two feet on two swings away from four more runs.

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But the vaunted Boston lineup depth will take a hit when the venue turns to Coors Field, because the designated hitter will be out of play.

Ortiz, the usual DH, will stay in the lineup, playing first base. That means that Youkilis will sit in Game 3. There's a good chance that at some point before the series leaves Denver, Youkilis will be in the lineup at third base, with Mike Lowell on the bench -- but that removes a big bat as well.

Either way, a critical hitter will come out. Youkilis and Lowell were both central figures in the Red Sox lineup all year. In the World Series, Youkilis has two hits, three walks and three runs scored. Lowell has two hits, three walks and two runs scored. They have helped turn the lineup over, and over, and over again.

By contrast, the Rockies will subtract Ryan Spilborghs, 0-for-5 with a walk thus far in the Fall Classic.

"It's going to be a hole," Francona said. "It's going to be a guy that's been out there every day all year that we won't have in the lineup, so we'll have to make some adjustments."

The downside is obvious: Youkilis will go from three or four at-bats per game to probably one. The upside, however, is that Francona can pick his spot with Youkilis. At the most opportune time, he can deploy the dangerous bat -- be it for his pitcher, or for one of his less dangerous hitters such as Julio Lugo or Jacoby Ellsbury.

He'd still rather have Youkilis, Lowell and Ortiz all in the game.

"The reality is that two out of three play," Francona said. "And it's disappointing, because we really like when all three of them play. They've all been mainstays of our lineup. They all do different things."

Colorado's two most effective starters, Jeff Francis and Ubaldo Jimenez, had a difficult time containing the full-strength Red Sox lineup at Fenway Park. Josh Fogg, the Game 3 starter, and Aaron Cook in Game 4 undoubtedly have more marginal stuff than Francis and Jimenez, and they'll be moving to a park that over the years has been more treacherous.

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But after Francis and Jimenez racked up hefty pitch counts in short outings, it should help greatly to add even one easy out. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester, the scheduled starting pitchers, are not exactly on-base machines.

"We'll see how it plays out," said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. "Obviously they built their ballclub for a DH for 150-some games. They're going to have a big bat, big hammer in the lineup [missing], whoever that may be. They'll have to make an adjustment."

Offense isn't the only consideration, however. The Red Sox have played excellent defense this season, and they'll take a defensive hit when they insert Ortiz in the lineup. Youkilis has become a quality first baseman, and the same surely cannot be said of Ortiz -- especially now as he is nursing a knee injury.

Further, when and if Youkilis starts at third, it will mark another hit. As much as he's developed at first, he can't match up with Lowell -- a former Gold Glove Award winner.

That aspect can be somewhat mitigated by an aggressive offense-defense platoon, which Francona has shown a willingness to use in the past. If and when the Red Sox are able to take the lead at Coors, Francona can shift gears and go with his best defensive lineup.

It all presents a challenge to the Boston skipper, but not one that can't be overcome. And the players are game, which certainly helps.

"In our case, it's going to be one of the guys that's been a pretty big piece all year," Lowell said. "But that's what we've got to deal with. We know ahead of time, and whatever happens, I think all three of us are going to be rooting for our teammates to win, no matter what the case may be. So we'll just kind of wait and see what happens."

We'll all find out, starting Saturday.

Matthew Leach 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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