BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia isn't one of those superstitious ballplayers.

It's not because he doesn't care -- if anything, he's been accused of caring too much. But he doesn't necessarily need to be superstitious.

Since June 29, Pedroia has been white-hot. He had a hit in every one of the 22 games leading into Tuesday's tilt with the Royals, batting .390 with nine doubles, seven homers, 17 RBIs and 24 runs scored.

Some players wouldn't change a thing in their daily routine while on a hot streak. There are those even on the Red Sox who have to put the same sock on first each day if they're playing good. The left sock, left cleat. Right sock, then right cleat.

Not Pedroia.

Even while carrying the longest hitting streak of any American League player this season, Pedroia made a monumental decision before Tuesday's game. He shaved his beard.

"I thought I'd clean it up a little," he said.

It took Pedroia one at-bat to extend his hitting streak to 23 games, roping a triple off the center-field wall in the first inning on Tuesday. His next at-bat came in the third, and the clean-shaven second baseman smacked a double to left field. After a single his next time up, Pedroia was just a home run shy of the cycle in the fourth.

One night after the Red Sox and Royals battled in a 14-inning game that exhausted both bullpens, the most explosive offense in baseball had scored 12 runs by the sixth, further tiring Kansas City manager Ned Yost's pitching staff.

So down six runs in the eighth, rather than wasting any more of his relievers, Yost opted for a position player, sending outfielder Mitch Maier to the mound with Pedroia leading off the inning.

Maier -- who had never pitched before in the Majors -- threw two straight balls, the fastest registering at 76 mph. The next pitch was a bit high, but Pedroia flashed one of his classic, all-out swings, using every ounce of his 5-foot-8, 165-pound frame to try to etch his name into history, becoming the first Boston player to hit for the cycle since John Valentin in 1996.

But Pedroia could only foul it off. And after Maier threw two more pitches in the mid-70s, he dialed back for an 80-mph pitch (recorded as a changeup) that Pedroia flung high into left field. If there's any park in the league that favors fly-ball home runs to left, Fenway is it.

"To be honest, I just didn't want to strike out," Pedroia said. "And he threw me a pitch middle in. I swung as hard as I could and hit it. That's all I got. I thought I was going to hit the [Green] Monster, but I'm not that strong."

The wind didn't blow, and the ball died just short of the warning track.

"I thought it was going to hit the wall," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "Maybe he just got tired. He was talking enough, he's probably tired."

Pedroia said he didn't care about hitting for the cycle, even if it meant putting his name on a list that includes Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Joe Cronin.

"It doesn't mean that much to me," he said.

He only wanted to win the game. And he got his wish.

Pedroia ended his night 4-for-5, raising his career average out of the cleanup spot to .559 (19-for-34). Hitting fourth with Kevin Youkilis (tight hamstring) out of the lineup, Pedroia offered no explanation why he's fared well in that slot. But hitting between Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz has played a role.

"It looks kind of weird, though," Pedroia said. "When Adrian goes on deck and I'm behind him, and then David's behind me. It looks a little weird."

Weird has worked. And Francona said Pedroia will probably bat fourth again on Wednesday -- if only to give the talkative second baseman something to gab about.

"If I'm Tito, I'm letting him clean up the whole year," Ortiz said. "Make it easy for us."

-- Jason Mastrodonato

Ellsbury gets breather, with McDonald starting

BOSTON -- In the early portion of a stretch in which they play 20 games without a day off, Red Sox manager Terry Francona will build in some breaks for his starting nine. And that's why Jacoby Ellsbury was not in there for Tuesday night's game against the Royals.

A day after playing 14 innings, Ellsbury got a chance to get some rest.

"We talked to Jacoby. I talked to him in the second inning [Monday] night to say, 'I'm going to check in with you after the game.' He didn't fight," Francona said. "When guys fight, that's when they get tired sometimes. They get a little beat up. Sometimes a day off will help. And when it doesn't, we won't do it. We know these guys well enough that we're not going to get in the way. Jacoby's been out there a lot. I think it will do him some good."

Darnell McDonald made the start in the leadoff spot against Royals lefty Danny Duffy and played center field.

Ellsbury entered as a pinch-hitter for Yamaico Navarro in the fifth inning, collecting a single and also flying out as the Red Sox batted around and scored six runs. He remained in the game, replacing McDonald in center.

Kevin Youkilis, who exited Monday's game with right hamstring tightness, was out of the lineup again. Navarro got the start at third. Drew Sutton, who pinch-hit for McDonald in the fifth, took over for Navarro at third.

"We were actually kind of leaning towards Youk not playing today anyway," Francona said.

Francona hinted that left fielder Carl Crawford could get a break on Wednesday.

Buchholz in process of determining next step

BOSTON -- How did Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz feel the day after throwing his first side session in weeks?

"General soreness, which I think is expected," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Saying that, I still think we view it as a very positive day [Monday]. So moving forward, what we're going to do now is have him revisit the medical people that have talked to him, and kind of review where he thinks he is and where they think he is, so if we get going here pretty fast and aggressive, he feels good about it. That will start happening today."

Depending on what the doctors say, Buchholz could be up for another side session very soon.

"Could be [Wednesday]," Francona said. "We'll see. Some of it is going to depend on how he feels. When we turn him loose, as we turn him loose, we want everybody to feel good about it."

Buchholz, who has been recovering from a lower back injury, hasn't pitched for the Red Sox since June 16.

Tito confident in club as Trade Deadline nears

BOSTON -- While Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein wears out his cellphone in the final few days before Sunday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, manager Terry Francona expressed confidence in his current roster.

"I like our team," Francona said. "Again, I've been around here long enough to know that Theo's going to be on the phone doing his due diligence, which he's supposed to. I don't need to sit up here and say what we need because I think my job is to get the most out of these guys and I like them a lot. But I also know Theo's going to try to make us better if he can."

If the Red Sox are to acquire an impact player, it will likely come at the expense of the farm system.

"I like our young players enough in our system that I'm not saying, 'Hey, go do this,' because I like our young guys, too," Francona said. "I really like the idea of our young guys coming up and helping us. I don't think that hamstrings us one bit."

In past years, the Red Sox have benefited from prospects thriving down the stretch, from Jonathan Papelbon in 2005 to Jacoby Ellsbury in '07 to Justin Masterson in '08 to Daniel Bard in '09. Last year, Ryan Kalish provided a boost.

"We draft good and our player development people do a great job, and our young guys come up and help and it's fun," Francona said.

Worth noting

• Albeit it one day later then they originally planned, the Red Sox officially placed right fielder J.D. Drew on the 15-day disabled list before Tuesday's game with an impingement of his left shoulder. Utility infielder/outfielder Drew Sutton was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket for the third time this season.

• With the Red Sox in danger of running out of pitching in Monday's 14-inning game, John Lackey put his spikes on and told manager Terry Francona he could pitch out of the bullpen. At first, Francona was going to take Lackey up on his offer, but then decided he was better off keeping the righty in line for his Wednesday night start.

• Injured shortstop Jed Lowrie continues to make slow progress from his injured left shoulder that has kept him on the disabled list since June 17.

"He's doing some of the soft toss," Francona said. "I'd say slow, steady progression, which is what we thought it would be."