BOSTON -- Kevin Youkilis is nearing a return to the lineup after taking swings for the first time since suffering a strained lower back.

The injured third baseman took batting practice before Sunday's series finale against Cleveland.

"He's progressing nicely," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "He felt great [on Saturday]."

Youkilis fielded ground balls before Sunday's game, another first since his injury on April 28 vs. the White Sox. He is also throwing from 90 feet.

"That's another step up," Valentine said.

Youkilis is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Monday, when Boston opens a two-game series against visiting Seattle. Sunday's game was the 14th contest Youkilis has missed since the injury.

Top prospect Will Middlebrooks has played well in Youkilis' absence, batting .282 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Entering Sunday, Middlebrooks had eight extra-base hits in his first nine games, the most by a Red Sox player to begin a career since 1918.

Youkilis was batting .219 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 18 games before his injury.

Bard calls latest start 'a step backward'

BOSTON -- Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard was not signing his own praises Sunday, despite letting in just one run in his six innings of a 12-1 win over the Indians. He worked around 10 baserunners -- six hits and four walks -- and struck out two.

"Today was a step backward in a few ways," said Bard, who threw 58 of 97 pitches for strikes. "Fastball command was not great all day, but it forced me to use the changeup and use the breaking ball. That's what kept me in the game and kept them off-balance just enough. It's one of those days where you say, with the fastball, 'I'm not going to locate it. I just need to be in the zone with it and throw enough offspeed stuff where it doesn't have to be perfect.' That's kind of what I was able to do. It's tough facing nine lefties. You have to find a way to grind and keep them swinging."

Typically a high strikeout guy, Bard's totaled just four Ks in his last three outings, a combined 18 1/3 innings. Against the Royals and A's, Bard struck out just one batter per game in a pair of losses.

"No, you've got to have command to strike guys out consistently," Bard said. "You can get away with some not-well-located pitches and a guy just guesses wrong and you get strikeouts, but to consistently do it, good command's got to be there. Once you get to two strikes, you've got to execute pitches. Mine have been OK, good enough maybe to get weak contact, but not good enough to get a swing-and-miss. I think when the breaking ball gets to where I'm capable of throwing it, you'll see those numbers get back to normal."

The third inning was particularly perilous, when Bard walked in the only run he allowed and gave three free passes in the inning.

"I felt really good in the first two, just pounding the zone, executing pitches," Bard said. "The third inning wasn't pretty by any means. It's just one of those things where I had a couple long sits between innings and you kind of lose the feel of the release point on the fastball. It's happened to me before, and it'll probably happen again. It's just a matter of grinding through it and finding something you could throw for a strike. For me, it was the offspeed that got me back into some good counts."

Red Sox adopt pink as color on Mother's Day

BOSTON -- The Red Sox didn't forget about their mothers when they got to Fenway Park on Sunday.

In the clubhouse before Sunday's series finale with Cleveland, second baseman Dustin Pedroia joked about playing well for his mom on Mother's Day.

"If I don't get two hits, my mom isn't happy with me," he said with a smile.

Pedroia doubled in the seventh inning to extend his hit streak to 14 games, the longest active streak in the Majors. He finished the day 1-for-4 with a run scored.

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Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks gave his mother plenty to cheer about, though, smashing a solo home run over the Green Monster in the third inning. He also had an RBI single and finished the day 2-for-3 with two runs scored.

"I only got to talk my mom for a second before the game, she was too busy for me," Middlebrooks said after Sunday's 12-1 win over the Indians. "She texted me and said, 'Nice shot.' I'll have to give her a call now."

Outfielder Daniel Nava also planned to call his mom after Boston's third straight victory. He was unable to contact her before the game, but made up for it with a pair of doubles, an RBI and three runs.

"I'm going to give her a call in a little bit," Nava said. "Unfortunately my phone died, it won't even turn on. So I need to go buy a new one and then I'm going to call her."

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia got in on the action, too, driving in five runs and blasting a two-run homer in the seventh inning.

"My mom, my wife, I've got three little girls -- every day, I play for them," Saltalamacchia said.

The Red Sox wore pink wristbands, a symbol of breast cancer awareness. Some players wore pink necklaces and others walked to the plate with pink batting gloves.

"I like the customization with our names and numbers," said shortstop Mike Aviles of the pink equipment.

Outfielder Cody Ross, infielder Nick Punto and catcher Kelly Shoppach used pink bats. But they combined to go 0-for-4 with the brightly colored wood.

Between innings, the video screen in center field featured messages from the players to their mothers.

Before the game, Shoppach tweeted, "Everyday is mothers day but on this day we celebrate it. Thank you to all the moms who do everything for their children."

Aviles' Twitter page read, "Happy mothers day to all mothers!! Without good mothers we would all be a bunch of nobody's! Enjoy ur [sic] day, y'all deserve it."

Sox put McDonald on DL with oblique strain

BOSTON -- Outfielder Darnell McDonald landed on the disabled list with a nagging right oblique strain before the Red Sox's 12-1 win over the Indians on Sunday. In his place, Triple-A Pawtucket first baseman Mauro Gomez, a 27-year-old who's put up some lofty numbers, was called up to the Majors for the first time and made his debut as a late-inning insert.

Gomez was not previously on the 40-man roster, so to select his contract, the Red Sox moved Jacoby Ellsbury (right shoulder) to the 60-day disabled list, which means the soonest he can return is June 13.

McDonald last played Friday in a 7-5 win over the Indians, striking out in a seventh-inning pinch-hit appearance, and he pitched on May 6, but said the injury wasn't tied to one event. An MRI revealed the strain.

"One of them things, I've just been trying to battle through it for a while," McDonald said. "It's better for the team myself to get it 100 percent. Just get it ready, instead of just letting it nag."

Asked specifically if pitching had an affect, McDonald laughed: "My whole body was sore after that," he said.

"I asked him today when it happened, he said, 'You should have known when I didn't get around on a 90-mph fastball,'" manager Bobby Valentine said. "He worked through it, then didn't play and it felt better, just never really got better."

McDonald is hitting .179 with a .277 on-base percentage and a pair of home runs in 26 games and 56 at-bats.

Gomez, from the Dominican Republic, is a right-handed bat who hit 10 home runs with a .294/.336/.610 line in 34 games with Pawtucket. He came on Sunday in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement at first base and struck out in his first at-bat, against right-hander Jairo Ascensio, ripping one pitch hard foul.

"Well, we were hoping to get the ball [from a first hit] of course, but it's always fun to see the first," manager Bobby Valentine said. "That was his first at-bat and he had a bounce in his step."

The Red Sox signed Gomez as a Minor League free agent on Feb. 2. Last season in the Braves' organization was his first at Triple-A, and although it took until his eighth pro season to get there, he made the most of the opportunity. He led the International League in total bases (264) and was second in hits (154) and extra-base hits (60). He hit 24 homers with a .304/.356/.522 line.

Gomez's pro career began when he was 19, in 2004, with the Rangers' organization.

Valentine balancing taxed Red Sox 'pen

BOSTON -- Only two teams, the Royals and Rockies, have had their relievers throw more pitches this season than the Red Sox, and just the Royals have gotten more innings out of their bullpen.

For Boston, the relief corps has been taxed, but it's also been effective. Since April 23, the Red Sox bullpen has a Major League-best 1.47 ERA in a Major League-high 73 2/3 innings. Still, Bobby Valentine isn't proclaiming the bullpen a settled matter.

"We've got guys who aren't battle-tested," the Red Sox manager said. "So we've go to figure out what they can do and how they can do it. Can Andrew Miller pitch three days in a row? We found out yes. That was the first time we've seen that. What kind of bounce-back capabilities does Rich Hill have after an injury [Tommy John surgery]? We're going to figure that out. And other little things like that. It's what a season is for."

Miller, a lefty, and righties Vicente Padilla (1-0, 5.40 ERA) and Matt Albers (0-0, 1.84) have been three cogs in front of Alfredo Aceves (0-1, 6.14 ERA) in the closer's role. Miller, who's a converted starter, has allowed just two base runners in five innings. He's unavailable Sunday after throwing three straight days.

"No, he's off today," Valentine said. "He can, he says he's all right. But he's not going to."

Aceves, who's known for a rubber arm, has also thrown three straight days, but wasn't ruled out. Padilla's thrown two straight days.

Padilla has inherited 11 runners and none have scored. No one else in the league this season has been given that many runners without letting in at least one run. He's been charged with just one earned run in his last eight outings, the type of performance everyone around him is also putting together.

Aceves, who has a high ERA on the season like Padilla, has just a 1.54 ERA in his last nine outings. Lefty Franklin Morales has been charged with two runs in his last eight outings.

And then there's always long-man Scott Atchison, who leads the Majors with 22 innings in relief. His ERA is 1.23.

No pain for Dice-K, but improvement needed

BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka was in the Red Sox's clubhouse to meet with the club on Sunday after struggling in his latest rehab outing in the Minors. The right-hander allowed five runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday.

"I didn't think he was as good as he should be," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "His mechanics weren't very good at all, I don't think. But he's throwing pain-free, so that's good."

Matsuzaka struck out five in his fourth rehab start while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has two starts remaining, the first on May 17 and finally on May 22, the last day he is eligible to pitch in the Minors.

"He has a couple more starts to get his whole thing together," Valentine said. "We're going to review [his mechanics] today."

Matsuzaka has allowed nine earned runs in 18 1/3 innings in the Minors, with 19 strikeouts.

"Right now he's worried about his strength and his ability to endure pitches," said Valentine, who turned 62 on Sunday.

Valentine did not rule out the possibility of going to a six-man rotation when Matsuzaka is eligible to return to the Majors later this month. The manager used a six-man rotation at times when he managed the Mets.

"It depends on who the six are," said Valentine, who also used a six-man rotation when he managed in Japan. "I guess it can work, but I don't have any plans for that right now as a long-term situation. I can see it being done a couple times through out of necessity."

But using six starters would mean a significant change in routine for Boston's rotation.

"Breaking routine is difficult for most," Valentine said. "And six days, usually you have to throw twice in between. It changes the days that they lift their weights, changes the days that they're in the training room. But if everyone is flexible enough, you never know."

Have any of the Red Sox starters expressed concern about remaining in the rotation when Matsuzaka returns?

"No one has asked me about [Matsuzaka's] situation as it relates to their situation," Valentine said. "I hope everyone in the starting staff feels that they have to compete and earn everything that they get."