BOSTON -- Literally on the other side of the world, it wasn't exactly an auspicious start to J.D. Drew's second season with the Red Sox when the right fielder had to pull himself out of the lineup just minutes before Opening Day in Tokyo.

Drew's back had flared up, but the real question was this: Would the lefty swinger be able to quickly regain the stroke he had for all of Spring Training?

Emphatically, Drew has answered that question since returning for the fourth game of the regular season. At a time when David Ortiz is off to perhaps the worst start of his career and Mike Lowell is on the disabled list, Drew (.429 average, three homers, eight RBIs) has been Boston's hottest hitter.

"You don't want to take off any time when you're swinging the bat well and you've got a nice rhythm going," said Drew. "There was really nothing I could do. I wanted to make sure I was healthy before I jeopardized missing a long period on the field."

When he belted his third home run of the season in the fifth inning on Friday night, it had significance beyond the fact it broke up Chien-Ming Wang's no-hitter and tied the game. Consider that Drew didn't hit his third homer of last season until June 8 in Arizona.

"You can't look for home runs," said Drew. "No one in the game of baseball is really looking for max power, just trying to hit the ball high in the air. You try to fine-tune things, square the ball up and see what happens."

What is happening is that Drew is lacing the ball.

To be fair, Drew also got off to a hot start last year (.419 over his first nine games) before struggling mightily for weeks on end.

But in Year Two with the Red Sox, Drew simply looks more comfortable and confident in his surroundings. He is no longer the high-priced new acquisition and no longer unfamiliar with the American League. It would be hard to imagine that Drew doesn't greatly improve on the 11 homers and 64 RBIs he had last year.

"I got in a good groove at the end of last year," Drew said. "I'm just trying to make that transition to this season and make sure that I was ready when April rolled around. I was. I had a slight back injury at the end. Spring Training was good, and the transition to the season has been nice."

Drew's teammates can sense the difference.

"He's kind of a reserved guy. I think he feels a lot more comfortable just because he's seen pitchers more than one, two times around," said Lowell. "I think you'd have to feel more comfortable. I'm happy he's swinging the bat well early in the count, because he has all the talent in the world -- he really does."

The Tokyo back injury didn't break any of the momentum that Drew first built last September and October, when he had a strong finish in helping the Red Sox win the World Series.

"He didn't seem real concerned about his swing, which was a good sign for us," said Red sox manager Terry Francona. "He said, 'I'll be fine. I feel OK hitting.' He just wanted to let his back get better so he didn't hurt himself. He thought he was going to be OK swinging the bat. You can usually tell, guys get a little edgy when they're [out]. He felt fine."