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Notes: Offense taking shape
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06/23/2004  8:10 PM ET
Notes: Offense taking shape
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David Ortiz entered Wednesday's game with 65 RBIs. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
BOSTON -- The Red Sox suffered too many injuries the first couple of months of the season to think about trying to break some of the offensive records they set in 2003. But now that Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon are back, and third baseman Bill Mueller expected to return around the All-Star break, the Sox look primed to create the same kind of havoc during these warm summer months as they did a year ago.

For a textbook example of how difficult this lineup is to deal with, go to the bottom of the seventh inning of Tuesday night's game.

The Sox held a modest three-run lead and runners were at second and third with one out. Nobody doubts the logic of intentionally walking the universally feared Manny Ramirez in a situation like that. But when you are loading the bases for two-time batting champion Nomar Garciaparra in the process, it's not exactly a comforting feeling.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire referred to it as "being up the creek without a paddle."

Gardenhire must have felt as if his boat had capsized when Garciaparra hammered a grand slam to dead center field.

Just as the weather is heating up and the ball is carrying generously around Fenway, soft spots are becoming harder to detect by the day in Terry Francona's lineup.

"That's the whole idea behind this," said Francona. "You got to pitch to somebody. If hitters are patient enough to take their walks, which our guys do, I think that's when you have a tendency of getting rallies going. You don't try to do too much."

The 3-4-5 combo of David Ortiz, Ramirez and Garciaparra is particularly imposing. And with tablesetters like Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn in front of the sturdy middle, and accomplished hitters Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek giving the lower part of the order some thump, Fenway figures to be a torture chamber for a fair share of opposing pitchers.

The plan in Spring Training was for the 3-4-5 combo to be Ramirez-Garciaparra-Ortiz. But that changed when Garciaparra was sidelined and Ortiz and Ramirez got off to hot starts in the 3-4 slots. Francona has no plans to change the alignment. Then again, he's too busy savoring actually having an almost fully healthy roster.

"Every time I try to foresee the future somebody starts limping," Francona said.

Even with all the games lost to injuries, the Sox entered Wednesday night's game first in the Major Leagues in extra-base hits, second in on-base percentage and third in both slugging percentage and runs. Last year's crew broke all-time records in slugging percentage and extra-base hits.

Encouragement regarding Mueller: Mueller is feeling so well in his rehab from right knee surgery that Francona said the third baseman could be ready to play in minor league games by July 2, when the Sox go to Atlanta for a three-game series.

Mueller will travel with the Sox to New York for next week's three-game series with the Yankees, and might venture off on his own after that.

"I think as far as progress goes, you do it by the week and not by the day," said Mueller, who has been taking batting practice with the Sox since Saturday. "I miss not playing. It's just a matter of, when you haven't done stuff in four weeks, I haven't ran in four weeks, I haven't fielded ground balls in four weeks, if you just got out there now and start playing, you could pull a groin or a quad ... or pull a calf. You have to get in shape, as well as making sure the knee feels all right, before you can go out there and say you feel great."

Wake trying to get going: Veteran Tim Wakefield tries to snap one of his worst slumps in recent memory when he takes the ball Thursday afternoon against the Twins. In his last four starts, Wakefield is 0-2 with a 9.55 ERA.

However, Francona isn't overly worried about the knuckleballer.

"In my opinion, he's such a reliable starter," Francona said. "He's had a couple tough outings. I guess I really didn't think anything of it. Wind him up, send him out there and let him go. Maybe I forget sometimes that guys need a pat on the back. I guess I have so much confidence in him that I know he's such a veteran. I just kind of let him go."

Sun Awareness: The Red Sox are devoting time on this homestand to educate fans on the dangerous effects of prolonged sun exposure. Shonda Schilling (wife of Curt) and Trinka Lowe (wife of Derek) are participating in the endeavor. Shonda is a melanoma survivor and founder of SHADE (The Curt and Shonda Schilling Melanoma Foundation of America). Derek Lowe is also a survivor of skin cancer. Aside from SHADE, Beth Israel Hospital and Neutrogena are also participating in Sun Awareness Week at Fenway.

Prior to Wednesday's game, Shonda Schilling and Trinka Lowe each threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

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

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