ST. PETERSBURG -- After notching a dramatic comeback victory in Cleveland without Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew, the Red Sox had both players back in the lineup for Thursday's opener of a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Drew didn't start on Monday or Wednesday because of a nagging left quad. The right fielder did enter Wednesday's game as a pinch-hitter, which actually ended up giving him the indication that his injury was improving.
"J.D. came out early and ran out there and felt pretty good," said manager Terry Francona. "That was good. He actually said yesterday when he was running down to first -- that was probably the one thing we didn't want to happen, is [him hitting] a grounder -- but he said he felt better than he thought he would, so that's good news."
Befitting the way things are going for the Red Sox of late, Jonathan Van Every, a veteran Minor Leaguer, stepped in for Drew and hit the game-winning homer to beat the Indians.
Youkilis sat out because of soreness after being hit by a pitch in the same portion of his back twice in the span of a few days.
"Youk spent the day yesterday getting treatment the whole day," Francona said. "He said he felt ... fine to play, so that's good."
Though two mainstays returned, Francona opted to give catcher Jason Varitek Thursday night off. Varitek caught all three games of the grueling series against the Yankees over the weekend, and two more grinders in Cleveland. The Red Sox didn't get into the Tampa/St. Pete area until the wee hours of Thursday morning.
"We're trying to give Varitek a little blow because of the length of games and travel," Francona said. "We'll let Georgie [Kottaras] catch [Josh] Beckett."
Ever the competitor, Varitek didn't express enthusiasm about getting a respite.
Was the day off good for him?
"I don't know," said Varitek. "It is what it is. I don't know what answer you're looking for -- I don't know what answer to say."
Short hops: Outfielder-first baseman Mark Kotsay, on the mend from back surgery, is expected to start a rehab assignment at Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday. The left-handed-hitting veteran could be back with the Red Sox at some point next week. ... Another outfielder on the disabled list, the right-handed-hitting Rocco Baldelli, is making progress from the left hamstring strain that has kept him out since April 20. "Rocco did good [on Thursday]," Francona said. "Rocco went out and actually ran at a pretty good clip. He'll start the next couple of days, maybe getting in some starting and stopping and some directional changes, but he really had a good day." ... Manny Delcarmen has been battling a tight left hip flexor, but it is nothing the Red Sox are worried about. The righty has been dominant this season, going unscored upon in his first 10 appearances.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.