ST. PETERSBURG -- Perhaps it was only fitting that Darnell McDonald resurfaced with the Red Sox on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. That was the venue where the likeable backup outfielder nearly disappeared last May, with manager Terry Francona telling him after a win that he was going to be designated for assignment.

That DFA never happened, because Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a recurring rib injury. And 13 months later, when it seemed McDonald's roster spot could again be in jeopardy, he survived again.

The Red Sox activated him from the 15-day disabled list and optioned infielder/outfielder Drew Sutton to Triple-A Pawtucket.

McDonald was placed on the DL on May 26 with a left quadriceps strain, but he spent most of the last couple of weeks playing for Pawtucket and resharpening some of the skills that had faded as he sat on Boston's bench.

"I hit my way off the island," kidded McDonald, who hit .345 with two homers and 11 RBIs for Pawtucket.

The day McDonald went on the DL, Francona said that the outfielder would take a few days off with his injury, then play some in the Minors and the team would have some "decisions to make."

The decision was to bring McDonald back into the mix.

"Actually, what was a little bit good about this was through no fault of his own, he hadn't played much," Francona said. "[Mike Cameron] got a lot of those starts. The second righty wasn't playing very much. [Jacoby Ellsbury] was doing so well. The thinking was, let Mac get down there and get some at-bats, it will probably end up being really good for him. I think Mac was smart enough to take advantage of that."

While Cameron still figures to be Boston's first outfielder off the bench, McDonald will likely get a start on Thursday night against tough lefty David Price.

"It was good to get at-bats," said McDonald. "I didn't want to go back and go through the motions. I wanted to play and work on the things that are going to prepare me to play at this level -- getting my body ready and at game speed, moving around. It was productive all the way around."

Though McDonald was hopeful he would be back, he knows better than just about anyone that there are no guarantees.

"It's just another reason you can't take anything for granted," McDonald said. "It's the story of my career. I'll just take the same approach: Work hard and enjoy every day."

Decision looming for southpaw Miller, Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG -- Triple-A Pawtucket left-hander Andrew Miller, who was once one of the best starting pitching prospects in baseball, can become a free agent if he chooses on Wednesday. However, the Red Sox hope he will remain in the organization. With that in mind, Boston general manager Theo Epstein will meet with Miller on Wednesday before a decision is made.

Miller certainly made his case to get a chance to pitch in Boston soon, producing another strong performance for Pawtucket on Tuesday. Over 5 1/3 innings against Charlotte, Miller allowed five hits and a run, walking one and striking out 10.

"I know Theo plans to sit with him tomorrow and kind of talk about his status," said manager Terry Francona. "That's really about it. He's actually already been in touch with him a little bit. He's pretty good at the communication part. He's throwing the ball great. He's somebody we've obviously watched since Spring Training with anticipation because of what he potentially can do, but I do know Theo is going to sit and visit with him."

Miller has appeared in 13 games for the PawSox, 12 of them starts. He is 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA and has 61 strikeouts and 35 walks in 65 2/3 innings.

The Boston Globe, citing an unnamed source, said that the Red Sox are already plotting a way to get Miller a start in Boston, perhaps as early as next week when the Padres come to Fenway.

"The last three, four starts have been really good," Francona said. "He's got a great arm. There are times where he doesn't throw strikes. He'll go through an inning where he'll walk a couple. What's funny about that is he's got such a nice feel for his breaking ball. [He's a] big, tall gangly kid, but he just manipulates the breaking ball really well.

"It kind of gives you a reason to be optimistic, because you don't normally see that with a guy that's not commanding. There's a lot to like about him. He's a good kid. He's grounded. He went through a lot of stuff in the winter talking to him, because I wanted him here so bad. I kind of spent some time talking to him. He's just a likeable kid. I think he wants to succeed here. I think he likes it here."

The Red Sox are pretty well stocked in the rotation with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield. Alfredo Aceves is the "sixth man."

Could Miller contribute out of the bullpen?

"I guess that's to be determined," Francona said. "I think he likes starting. I think that was the best way to get his repetition, but he's doing so well that ... finding starters, it's not an easy thing to do. You can always put a guy in the bullpen, but I think he enjoys starting."

Worth noting

• Righty Bobby Jenks, sidelined with left back tightness, is getting back on a throwing program. "Bobby threw flat ground out to 90 feet, he said with decent intensity," manager Terry Francona said. "He's got the go-ahead to do as tolerated. We kind of told him, 'Look, don't do something where you set yourself back.' Hopefully he'll continue to progress forward."

• Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who is managing left shoulder woes, was out of the lineup for the second straight game. With Monday's day off, it gave him a three-day break. Lowrie was just 1-for-6 lifetime against Rays starter James Shields. Marco Scutaro made the start.

• Lefty Franklin Morales, on the 15-day disabled list with a left forearm strain, was spotty in his rehab appearance for Pawtucket on Monday, walking two over 1 2/3 innings. After a two-day break, Morales will throw 30 pitches on Thursday.

• Though Francona is the first to admit he's not a hockey fan, he recently placed a call to Bruins coach Claude Julien. Said Francona: "He dropped on me, 'Hey, I appreciate the call. I'm glad you're interested in hockey.' I said, 'No, I don't understand it, I don't like it, but you seem like a really great guy. I want to wish you luck."' Francona made the call when the Bruins were down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. They will play Game 7 in Vancouver on Wednesday night.