NEW YORK -- From the general manager to the manager to the Red Sox's newest stars, the importance of a three-game series against the Yankees, starting on Friday night, was downplayed before the first pitch.

"Every series is important," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "When you're underperforming as a team, every game becomes increasingly important, and every series is important because that's the game we're playing right now. That's the series we're playing right now. Right now, it doesn't really matter who we're playing; we need to play better baseball. Every night out is an opportunity for us to do that -- play a clean game, execute, set a winning tone going forward."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Friday that he hopes his club gets up to play Boston. Neither team is off to a particularly fast start -- neither was in first place in the American League East heading into the series -- but Sox manager Terry Francona toyed with Girardi's comment before portraying this series as any other.

"First of all, I hope he's wrong," Francona said. "We don't really want to see the best of them. What we try to do -- and I don't think people believe me, and I don't really know why; maybe it's because they haven't played -- but wherever we are, that's what our most important series is. ... We don't get extra credit for winning a game here."

Getting Lackey on track high on Sox's list

NEW YORK -- The Red Sox aren't pretending that John Lackey isn't in a bad way.

The right-hander has allowed a combined 17 runs in his last two starts, a 10 2/3-inning span during which he's struck out just two batters. Lackey acknowledged that something's not right, and that appears to extend beyond the baseball field. Lackey said after his most recent outing, a loss on Wednesday, that "Everything in my life [stinks] right now, to be honest with you."

"We've talked to Lack," manager Terry Francona said. "We try to talk to everybody. Some of the things that maybe you're referring to have to be a little bit personal. I would hope you'd understand that and respect that."

Lackey, 2-5 with an 8.01 ERA, is to throw his side session on Saturday, as expected. After looking strong during the first Spring Training he was able to complete in three years -- right forearm injuries hampered him the previous two -- Lackey hasn't been able to maintain his velocity well through the middle innings of his starts during the regular season.

"I think his stuff has been inconsistent," general manager Theo Epstein said of Lackey. "His velocity has been there more early in games. He hasn't necessarily held the velocity through the middle and late innings as much as he has in the past."

Asked if it was possible Lackey could be given a mental break from the team, Epstein echoed Francona's sentiment of keeping personal matters behind closed doors. But Epstein reassured reporters that the team is looking closely at what has gone wrong with Lackey on the mound.

"You can't ignore the results, but even when there are good results, if you look deeper, the coaches are looking deeper to see if there are things that we need to work on. Stuff, command, movement, mechanical issues -- obviously, you look deeper and deeper when you don't get the kind of results that you're looking for.

"These aren't things that are going to be discussed publicly, but the pitching coach and others are working on it every day, trying to put guys in a position to succeed. Rest assured there's a lot of work being done on a lot of different fronts to improve this club, and obviously, that's one of the fronts."

Wheeler progressing; Jenks further behind

NEW YORK -- Red Sox right-handed reliever Dan Wheeler threw a scoreless inning for Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday in his first rehab appearance as he works back from a left calf injury. He struck out one and walked one.

Wheeler may not have needed to go to the disabled list had the Red Sox not been put in a bind on May 5, when a game that ended at 2:45 a.m. ET meant emergency pitching help was needed. Wheeler is expected to make more appearances before rejoining the big league club, which at the earliest would be May 20.

Fellow reliever Bobby Jenks was placed on the DL the same day as Wheeler with a right biceps strain, and while Jenks could technically return sooner because he was put on the DL retroactive to May 2, Jenks has not started to throw.

"Normally, with time down without throwing, you've got to probably take that time to get ramped up again," manager Terry Francona said. "He's not quite there yet. When we do have news, I'll let you know. Not yet. We want him to be completely symptom-free before he starts throwing."

Both relievers struggled in their first month with the Red Sox. Jenks went 1-2 with a 9.35 ERA in 11 appearances, and Wheeler had no record and an 11.32 ERA in the same number of outings.

Ellsbury bangs knee, stays in game

NEW YORK -- Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury's knee was tweaked in the ninth inning of Friday's 5-4 Red Sox win over the Yankees after he singled and stole second base.

"He banged his knee," manager Terry Francona said. "We'll see; I think he's OK, but we'll certainly check on him later."

Ellsbury went 2-for-5 with a strikeout. He has 12 steals on the season.

Well-rounded Lowrie impressing Epstein

NEW YORK -- Theo Epstein didn't say that Jed Lowrie would start every game at shortstop for the rest of the season, but the Red Sox's general manager gave Lowrie -- relegated to a part-time role at the start of the season -- a ringing endorsement on Friday.

Asked about the catching situation, though, Epstein was more tepid.

"Lowrie's been swinging a really good bat," Epstein said. "[Marco] Scutaro was playing hurt for a little while there. Hopefully, when he comes back, he'll be healthy and give us a little bit more, but I think Lowrie is certainly swinging the bat well, considering shortstop production around the league.

"Defensively, he's becoming increasingly reliable. He's not a guy blessed with tremendous foot speed, but he positions himself well and should have reliable hands to get the ball where it's supposed to go. I think the total package is something that we're pretty happy with."

Hitting seventh on Friday night against the Yankees, Lowrie came into the game with a .327 average and three homers.

As for the Jarrod Saltalamacchia-Jason Varitek tandem behind the plate, Epstein said the former has shown improvement. It's not the offense that's a problem, Epstein said, even though the Sox's catchers entered Friday hitting a combined .181.

"I don't think we're looking for our catchers to pace our offense," Epstein said. "I think they're going to settle in and get to their level. ... There's not a ton of offense on a lot of clubs from the catcher position. I think right now, we're more concerned with handling the pitching staff and the defensive side of the game. We know that there's going to be some offense coming from that spot, and we're OK with that."

Kalish may not need shoulder surgery

NEW YORK -- Red Sox doctor Tom Gill's evaluation of Triple-A Pawtucket outfielder Ryan Kalish on Friday went well. Kalish, 23, partially tore the labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder in April, and surgery now seems less likely.

"Dr. Gill saw Kalish, and he was really impressed with his shoulder strength and is feeling optimistic about things," general manager Theo Epstein said. "He's going to go to Fort Myers and continue his rehab. As long as the progress continues without any major interruptions, it looks like he's on a path to recovery without surgery, which is what we were hoping for, but you never know until you actually rehab it."

Other injured Red Sox Minor Leaguers haven't been as fortunate. Infielder Yamaico Navarro, who strained an oblique muscle a couple of days before shortstop Marco Scutaro was hurt, is rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla., and there's no timetable for him to leave, Epstein said. Outfielder Juan Carlos Linares had surgery on his ankle and is likely done for the season.

"Yeah, the timing was disappointing for Navarro; he was having such a great year," Epstein said. "Navarro's someone who's made unbelievable strides with his approach at the plate and his plate discipline. ... He would've been called up, it turns out, because of Scutaro's injury."

Navarro, who was hitting .329 with four homers, is 23 years old and can play around the infield. He was starting to play the outfield, too.

Linares, 26, was hitting .233 with three homers. This was to be the Cuba native's first full season in the pros after signing with the organization last season.

Hale inducted to Thunder Hall of Fame

NEW YORK -- A night before the Red Sox and Yankees kicked off a three-game set at Yankee Stadium, Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale was honored at, of all places, a Yankees Minor League game.

On Thursday night, Hale was inducted into the Double-A Trenton Thunder's Baseball Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony at Waterfront Park in New Jersey. The Red Sox, already in New York, enjoyed an off-day.

Hale, 49, managed the Thunder from 1997-99 -- when they were still a Red Sox farm team -- and led them to a Minor League-best 92-50 (.648) record in his final season. That campaign led Hale to receive Minor League Manager of the Year honors from Baseball America, The Sporting News and USA Today Baseball Weekly.

Hale is in his second year as Boston's bench coach after joining the Major League coaching staff as a third-base coach in 2006.

Hale's combined record with the Thunder was 234-192 (.549), and he is the 15th member of the Thunder Hall of Fame. Nomar Garciaparra is also an inductee.