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04/21/08 11:56 AM ET

Lowell set to take batting practice

Third baseman closer to return with next step in recovery

BOSTON -- For the first time since going on the 15-day disabled list, Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell is expected to step back into the batter's box at Fenway Park on Tuesday afternoon.

Though it will just be batting practice and not game action, it is the surest sign yet of the progress Lowell has made from a sprained left thumb sustained on April 9.

If Lowell is indeed cleared for live batting practice, can his return take place very soon thereafter?

"If I'm healthy, I don't see why I wouldn't," Lowell said. "If I'm pain-free, I'm hoping. We'll see. It's a work in progress."

Lowell is eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday. However, it's far too early to tell if he'll be able to be activated that soon.

"Every day, he's getting more and more confident in his use of his hands on the bat," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He feels good about everything."

The training staff is looking for innovative ways to keep Lowell's thumb comfortable.

"They've worked on a number of contraptions," Francona said. "There's always a drawback with something, whether it doesn't fit in his glove or he's not comfortable with his glove or it puts him in peril of breaking his thumb. Some of the things that put that thumb in position could actually put you in peril when you dive for a ball. So I believe they've come up with somewhat of a hockey contraption that they're going to pare down a little bit that I think everyone is fairly excited about. We'll see."

Though Lowell is close, Francona doesn't want to push the third baseman to do too much too soon.

"It depends on how he feels -- probably not that far away," Francona said. "I just think it depends on how he feels. For us to tell him doesn't make any sense. He's a veteran player that knows himself, he plays in pain. It's really, 'How comfortable is he?' That's really what it amounts to. And we don't want to set him back either. That's the kind of thing I've been telling him is, 'We know you'll play, but we'd like to have you have a chance to play the rest of the year and not have this thing bugging the heck out of you.'"

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