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04/18/08 8:01 PM ET

Lowell better, but return date unknown

Even though pain is subsiding, veteran careful about left thumb

BOSTON -- The good news for Mike Lowell is that with every passing day, he gets closer to returning.

Since spraining his left thumb on April 9 against the Tigers, Lowell has been getting treatment every day, and it's paying off. Lowell sat at his locker before Friday's game, and he answered questions without the splint that has been on his left hand since the injury.

"It's less each day," Lowell said in describing the pain. "I think it's less, because the swelling has gone down and I can do a little more, so I guess that's a good sign. They want me to do a whole pregame routine pain-free.

"They do their pricking and prodding, and then when I tell them it hurts, they'll gauge that. It's been much less and less each day."

But Lowell stopped short of a specific date for a return.

"I don't know," Lowell answered. "That's my total, sincere answer. I don't know. The sooner I can hit, that curve is shortened, but it's all based off that. So I've got to get to that day first."

Lowell said while he's able to take the splint off to take care of business, like reading mail at his locker, he's not going to take any chances while in the dugout or around the team during drills.

"I think the splint's basically a precautionary thing, just so someone doesn't walk by me [and bump into me]," Lowell said. "I can move it OK. I just don't have grip strength. I can't hold that, but from where I was nine days ago, I think we've really moved in the right direction significantly. I've got to take that as a positive.

"I just don't want to be high-fiving someone in the dugout, and someone turns around and my thumb gets caught in their belt, and now I'm missing out on time."

Lowell said that he is also working with the training and equipment staff to find something that he could wear to protect the thumb under the glove when he does return to action.

"I have to go into the trainer's room to see what they'll give me clearance for," Lowell said. "I think that's the more important thing to do. Fielding, we're trying to manipulate and do something where the ligament, whether I dive, stays in one spot. We're going to have four or five different things back there and I'm going to try them on."

The biggest challenge right now for Lowell is to watch while others such as Kevin Youkilis fill in.

"It's a lot easier when we're playing pretty good," Lowell said. "Sean Casey's doing the job, Youk's doing very well at third, even Jed [Lowrie] went in and had a nice game and was able to contribute. I think you would feel a lot more responsible if the guy playing third or hitting in the five hole was struggling.

"That's the strength of our team. We have depth. We can still be a very formidable team, even if one guy goes down or someone's not playing well. That's a major asset we have."

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.