KANSAS CITY -- This was shaping up as the season that highly-touted Red Sox prospect Ryan Lavarnway would get his September callup.
But that time-table was pushed up Thursday, when Kevin Youkilis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a back injury. The Red Sox are also without David Ortiz (right heel bursitis) for a few more days. That will give Lavarnway -- a catcher by trade -- the chance to serve as the designated hitter during Big Papi's absence.
Lavarnway has 30 homers between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this year, batting .293 overall. He's hit .301 in 55 games with the PawSox, though he's gone just 5-for-44 in August. Three of the five hits were home runs.
He had typical nerves entering his debut Thursday, when he batted seventh in manager Terry Francona's lineup.
"It was pretty bad on the plane, I had some knots in my stomach," said Lavarnway. "Now that I'm here, it's kind of back to business."
The Red Sox felt that Lavarnway was already pretty close to being a Major League-caliber hitter, if he isn't one already. The key to his development is working on his defense behind the plate. During this stint in Boston, he would only catch during an emergency situation, as Francona already has a solid tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek.
"We have catching, but we can hopefully use his bat," Francona said. "He's a tremendous hitter -- especially for power. He started out in Double-A, carried it over to Triple-A. He's worked so hard on his catching -- he's kind of actually probably turned into an average catcher, because that's where he had some work to do. Now you might not see him catch while he's here, but he'll hopefully hit a few home runs."
Lavarnway, an eighth-round selection by the Red Sox in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, was keeping an even keel as he got ready for the game.
"I don't have a lot of expectations coming in," said Lavarnway, who went 0-for-4 in his debut. "I'm just coming in with an open mind and trying to learn something every day."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.