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09/25/07 7:50 PM ET

Notes: Okajima could return Thursday

Red Sox happy as reliever throws 40-pitch side session

BOSTON -- Tuesday was full of positive developments for the Red Sox on the injury front. Not only did star slugger Manny Ramirez make his return following a 24-game absence, but invaluable lefty reliever Hideki Okajima threw a 40-pitch side session that kept him in position to pitch in Thursday night's game.

Okajima hasn't pitched since Sept. 14, at which point he was shut down amid some concerns from the training staff.

"There was some fatigue that he dealt with, and much like other guys who have had a little bit of a breather during the season, this was his time," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "We're hopeful to get [him] one or two appearances before the regular season concludes, and, at this point he would certainly factor in heavily, as he has all year."

Just by watching Okajima in the bullpen, Farrell could tell that the rest did the lefty some good.

"I thought it looked similar to the games he's pitched, not just recently, but throughout the year," Farrell said. "His stuff was crisp, it was a 40-pitch bullpen. No issues in his long-toss or getting loose for the work today. Today was a good work day for him."

With Eric Gagne pitching better of late, the return of Okajima could really bolster manager Terry Francona's bullpen options.

Everything went according to plan with regard to Okajima's rehab program.

"It's just the progression that you have to follow once you stop a guy from throwing," Francona said. "He'll be down tomorrow and hopefully get into a game on Thursday. I think everybody was real excited, including him."

Youk set to return: The Red Sox will have their lineup back to full strength for the first time in a while on Wednesday night, when first baseman Kevin Youkilis returns after missing eight starts with a right wrist contusion.

Youkilis had a cortisone shot Friday to help dull the pain and swelling.

"It helped the healing process," said Youkilis. "Just had some swelling in the joint that wouldn't go away. Hopefully, now it will subside, and I'll be ready to play out the rest of the year and go into the playoffs."

There was no question Youkilis was ready to end his sabbatical.

"I think, for me, it's just going out there and playing and being on the field again," Youkilis said. "The worst thing in all of sports is to not be able to go out and play on a daily basis. That's more pain than the actual feeling in your body. For me, I just can't wait to be out there playing and help this team win some ballgames."

Eric Hinske once again started at first in place of Youkilis.

Coco a late scratch: Center fielder Coco Crisp was scratched from the lineup at the last minute due to illness, and Jacoby Ellsbury got the start.

Sox have division in sights: The Red Sox continued to focus on winning the American League East. With a Wild Card berth, after all, Boston would have to start the postseason on the road.

In order to secure home-field advantage for the Division Series, the Red Sox would need to have one of the top two records in the American League.

"For us, to go out there and play good ball is the key," said Youkilis. "We want to clinch the division and go on to the playoffs and hopefully have the best record in baseball so we get to decide our own fate."

The Red Sox entered the night a half-game behind Cleveland, but two losses fewer than the Angels in the race for the league's best record.

"When you start at home, the fans give you that support," said Sox slugger David Ortiz. "When you play at home, pretty much 90 percent of everybody plays better at home."

Coming up: Left-hander Jon Lester (4-0, 4.45 ERA) makes his final regular season start in Wednesday's 5 p.m. ET contest. He'll be opposed by right-hander Joe Blanton (14-10, 3.84 ERA).

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.