Youkilis looking to remain white hot

Youkilis looking to remain white hot

BOSTON -- After Saturday night's 6-4 win over the Orioles, a clubhouse visitor informed Kevin Youkilis, tongue in cheek, that with four hits in the game, he is on pace for 309 hits this season.

"Yeah, I don't think that will happen," Youkilis replied. "I'll leave that to Pedey [Dustin Pedroia]."

While he may be content to leave such numbers to teammate and reigning American League MVP Pedroia, there's no denying what Youkilis has meant to the Red Sox in the early part of the season.

"He's been our MVP, no question," outfielder Jason Bay said. "He's on base. He's getting big hits. Whatever it is. And I think with the struggles of some guys early, to have that, he's kind of been our, for lack of a better term, our rock in the middle of the lineup, as far as going out there and getting on base and doing everything, day in and day out. And without him, really I don't know where we'd be."

Youkilis entered the game hitting .425, but his four hits Saturday -- two doubles, a single and a three-run home run -- boosted his average to .467. Youkilis and Bay have been the most consistent hitters in the lineup, while the rest of the offense is just beginning to find its rhythm.

Youkilis had four of his team's six RBIs on Saturday, nearly doubling his season total to nine. Youkilis is also sporting eight multihit games in the team's first 11 contents, and he enters Sunday with a .500 on-base percentage.

"He's swinging it as good or better than anyone in the league," manager Terry Francona said. "He's an intelligent hitter. He's using the whole field and he's hitting with authority. Last year, he grew into one of the premier hitters in the league, and he's just picking up where he left off."

Josh Beckett, who started Saturday and improved his record to 2-1, was a prime beneficiary of Youkilis' production.

"He's pretty special," Beckett said. "I've played with some really good hitters, and I don't think I've ever seen anyone that's as comfortable. It doesn't matter the count, he trusts his hands so much. And that's what keeps him from swinging at those pitcher's pitches. If he's 0-2, it doesn't matter. It's not like we feel like we're out of the at-bat. He gets a lot of hits with two strikes. He battles those pitches as good as anybody I've ever seen."

But, for Youkilis, he's just doing what he knows he can do. He doesn't feel any differently at the plate. He's not seeing the ball any better than he ever has.

"No, I'm just probably fortunate," Youkilis said. "I got a couple of good pitches to hit, and got good results. I think a lot of time you can't base on results. I think in Spring Training I couldn't get a hit, but I was hitting the ball good, just didn't get results. So for me, I'm just having good results, and I just got to keep having good at-bats. If you have good at-bats, you give yourself a good chance to get hits."

Which his teammates appreciate.

"He's had both real good at bats ... and he's hit some balls extremely well," catcher Jason Varitek said. "But that's due to his ability, his bat-to-ball ability and his ability to know the strike zone."

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (0-2, 9.00 ERA)
Lester has opened the season in a funk, being belted around for 18 hits and 11 runs in losses to the Rays and Athletics. The lefty was the victim of a five-run second inning in his performance against Oakland. In that contest, he walked none and struck out five. Perhaps facing the Orioles will cure what ails Lester. Lester is 6-0 with a 2.81 ERA in eight career starts against Baltimore.

BAL: RHP Koji Uehara (2-0, 7.20 ERA)
Uehara has won each of his first two starts despite not going farther than five innings in either of them. The right-hander allowed seven earned runs in his last outing, which was part of a demolition derby three-game series against the Rangers. Uehara, an extreme strike-thrower, has had problems gripping the American baseball in each of his first two big league starts. Still, the rookie is one of Baltimore's most experienced starters and will need to pile up lots of innings this season.

Tidbits
Five of Varitek's seven hits this season have been for extra bases. ... Pedroia was caught stealing in the fourth inning Saturday night, marking just the fourth time in his career he's been caught -- which translates into an 87.9 percent success rate. ... Bay has reached base safely in 24 straight games, going back to Sept. 12, 2008. ... Youkilis and Bay have both reached base safely in all of the Sox's games this season. ... The last time Beckett allowed four walks in a game, which he did Saturday, was April 6, 2008, in Toronto. ... The Sox's team photo day was postponed Saturday because of the pregame rain and rescheduled for Sunday.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Monday: Red Sox (Justin Masterson, 0-0, 4.50) vs. Orioles (Mark Hendrickson, 1-1, 3.00), 11:05 a.m. ET
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 1-1, 3.00) vs. Twins (Scott Baker, 0-1, 13.50), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Red Sox (TBD) vs. Twins (Francisco Liriano, 0-3, 5.09), 7:10 p.m. ET

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.