Notes: Lugo showcasing his speed
Shortstop adds a different dimension to Boston's offense
BALTIMORE -- On a team built to bash, a burner can get lost waiting for three-run home runs. Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, who began Wednesday tied with Baltimore's Brian Roberts for the American League lead with six stolen bases, wants manager Terry Francona to remember there's a place for a speed merchant atop Boston's lineup.
"I knew I couldn't come here and run free," said Lugo, who swiped a career-high 39 bags with Tampa Bay two seasons ago. "It's just going to be in the flow of the game. When it's time to steal a base, I'll steal one. If it's not time, then [I'll] let the big guys do what they do."
In four seasons with the Red Sox, Francona hasn't always had the luxury of blazing speed atop the lineup, and he's been hesitant to put the running game in motion for fear of unsettling his middle-of-the-order hitters.
"We are built to try and get crooked numbers," Francona said. "That's how we win."
But the addition of Lugo -- who signed a four-year, $36 million contract in December -- gives the Red Sox a new dimension. Last year, Boston stole 51 bases, 22 by Coco Crisp. The previous two years, the Red Sox totaled 113 thefts, with Johnny Damon leading the team with 18 in 2005 and 19 in 2004.
"When we're built that way, we're not going to ask David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramirez] ... to steal bases," Francona said. "That would be kind of silly on my part. But guys who have the ability to run, it's tremendous. It's another weapon."
One Lugo wants his new manager to fully utilize.
"The guys behind us can drive us in," Lugo said. "It's another thing for the pitcher to think about. He can't worry just about the hitter. He's got to think about me being on first base, too."
Francona has been impressed with how Lugo has judiciously turned on the jets. Hitting in front of first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who works pitchers deep into counts and gives Lugo an opportunity to gauge deliveries, doesn't hurt either.
"It's more than just stolen bases. It's the threat of the stolen base and how it can hurt you," Francona said.
Coco waits: Crisp, who was expected to return from a strained left oblique for Wednesday's opener of a two-game series at Camden Yards, remained sidelined.
Francona didn't sound convinced that he'd have Crisp available when the Red Sox head to Yankee Stadium for the weekend. He acknowledged that Crisp could be headed to the disabled list if his recovery doesn't progress more quickly.
"[He's] not as good as we want him to be," Francona said of Crisp. "I think the plan of attack is, we're going to not play him tonight and tomorrow, and let the medical staff have him. Then [we'll] try to make a determination in New York."
Crisp hit Tuesday, but reported some discomfort Wednesday, Francona said.
"We're trying to figure out if it's a bruise or if it's a strain," Francona said.
Numbers, please: Second baseman Alex Cora found himself in the lineup Wednesday because of his stellar numbers against Orioles right-hander Daniel Cabrera, against whom Cora is 9-for-16 (.563) in his career.
With rookie Dustin Pedroia hitting .211 (8-for-38) versus right-handers, the choice was academic.
"He's about 9-for-17 against this guy. That, for me, is seeing the ball fairly well," Francona said.
Francona was rewarded early on Wednesday when Cora launched a solo home run in the third inning off Cabrera.
With left-hander Adam Loewen scheduled to throw for the Orioles on Thursday, Cora will sit in favor of Pedroia.
"I do want to pick spots where Pedroia gets up and gets going, but at the same time, this is too good a night not to play Cora," Francona said.
Francona toyed Wednesday with the idea of resting left fielder Manny Ramirez, who is 2-for-7 lifetime against Cabrera. But Francona relented when Ramirez, who was 4-for-21 on the Red Sox's homestand, balked at sitting.
"Manny talked me out of it," the manager said. "So I'm thinking if he feels like he wants to be in there, I'm hoping he'll get hot. I've got to believe he thinks he's getting close. That's got to be a good sign."
Lester delayed: Left-hander Jon Lester's scheduled Triple-A start for Pawtucket on Wednesday was washed out by rain in Rochester, N.Y. Lester, who spent much of the offseason undergoing treatment for lymphoma, will return to Boston for routine medical tests Thursday, then face Buffalo in Pawtucket on Friday.
Coming up: Right-hander Josh Beckett (4-0, 2.55) puts his unblemished April on the line in a 7:05 p.m. ET game at Baltimore. Loewen (2-0, 3.72) pitches for the Orioles.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.