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03/31/08 8:24 PM ET

Drew to make his return against Harden

Right fielder will play on Wednesday after missing early action

OAKLAND -- Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew is ready to play again, but manager Terry Francona will hold him out of Tuesday's opener in Oakland and save him for the Wednesday afternoon game against Rich Harden.

With Drew battling a lower back strain over the last week, Francona wouldn't have played him in a day game on Wednesday following Tuesday's night game.

The way Harden mowed through the Red Sox in Tokyo last week, Francona would rather have Drew available for that game.

"We'll have him available [Tuesday]," said Francona. "Then he'll have another day off [Thursday]. I think he feels OK. There's a little, I think, apprehension, but I think he's doing pretty well. We'll see how he does today."

Drew appeared to make it through the team's Monday workout fine, taking swings during batting practice and shagging flyballs in the outfield.

"Unless something crazy happens I think I should be right on track," said Drew. "As long as everything stays on track, I'll be ready to get the season under way. I really hated missing Opening Day in Japan. Just because of the circumstances, I couldn't really perform the way I wanted to. I've had some time to try to heal up and I should be ready to go."

Coco Crisp will start in center field on Tuesday, with Jacoby Ellsbury taking Drew's spot in right.

Though Ellsbury hasn't played much right field in his career, he started all three exhibition games there in Los Angeles over the weekend.

Drew had been red-hot in exhibition play before tweaking his back in batting practice just prior to the season opener in Tokyo.

"Very frustrated," Drew said. "I told Tito about 15 minutes before the game, right before the introductions, I tried to do some running and it had tightened up so bad I couldn't perform. That was difficult, realizing that I was in a good rhythm, I didn't want to lose that and definitely didn't want to jeopardize something and really mess it up because I've had an injury with my back and missed considerable time so I didn't want to go through that again."

Of course, the hope now is that Drew can keep the momentum he had before the injury.

"Keep it simple," said Drew. "I've always been a guy that's just tried to simplify hitting, so yeah, it's going to be one of those things where timing issues pop back up but hopefully I'll be OK."

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