HOUSTON -- For the second -- and probably last -- time on this nine-game road trip against National League teams, David Ortiz was in the starting lineup for Saturday night's game against the Astros.

With no designated hitter for the entirety of the trip, Ortiz played first, while Adrian Gonzalez got the start in right.

Though the slugger entered the game 0-for-8 with a walk on the trip, manager Terry Francona thinks he's gotten just enough playing time to stay sharp. Ortiz will get his full-time job back on Monday, when the Red Sox return to face the Blue Jays for the start of a seven-game homestand.

"I'm actually pretty happy now," Francona said. "We've gotten through seven games, he's got, what, nine at-bats? Before this trip started, I was thinking, 'This is going to be a tough trip.' Late last night, he [fouled one off] to left field, hard. He's got his stroke. [I'm] thrilled about that."

In other lineup news, Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the leadoff spot after missing Friday night's game with an illness.

J.D. Drew got the night off against lefty starter J.A. Happ, with Darnell McDonald starting in right. Did Francona think about starting the red-hot Josh Reddick?

"You know what, we certainly could have done that today," Francona said. "I don't think [Reddick] really gets too affected by lefty-righty."

It turns out that Francona's main thinking with the move is his determination to get McDonald on some type of roll. McDonald entered the game hitting .115 with one homer and three RBIs.

"I really do want [McDonald] to face some of these lefties, because of what he can do," Francona said. "I want us to get [McDonald] hot. [McDonald] spent all that time behind [Mike Cameron], [and] didn't get the at-bats. Then he goes and gets his rehab in Triple-A and he swung the bat great, and he came here and looked like he was going to swing it good and then kind of went the other way, so I want to get him going a little bit."

Bard sticks to plan, and his dominance returns

HOUSTON -- Daniel Bard's season started with the indignity of giving up a four-spot on Opening Day. And it wasn't like he completely sputtered in his outings after that, but the righty did not have the same dominance he had last season.

By May 23, when he lost a game in Cleveland, Bard's ERA was 3.65 -- fine for most pitchers, but below his standards.

At the time, this is what he had to say:

  • 131 wins
  • 121 wins

"You just kind of come to expect it as a reliever," Bard said. "You're going to have a little bit of bad luck, and it could look really bad. Same going the other way. It'll even out. I'm confident it will. I'm going to stick to the plan and keep doing what I'm doing, because I'm really happy with the way the ball's coming out of my hand. When they hit pitches you're trying to throw, there's not much you can do about it."

Bard might have sounded like he was in denial at the time. But then you look at what he's done since, and the man made a valid point -- one that he has made stand with some brilliant pitching.

Since that night in Cleveland, Bard has been all but untouchable. He has pitched 13 times, covering 15 innings, giving up four hits and no runs while walking three and striking out 15. Opponents have hit .085 against him during that span.

"I told everyone I felt like I was throwing the ball well, and I stand by that," Bard said before Saturday's game against the Astros. "I don't think I'm throwing the ball any better now than I was in April. You learn as a reliever that you can't dwell on the good or the bad statistics. I could sit here and tell you how great I feel and how everything is clicking for me and go out tonight and blow it. I might throw the ball well, but a guy runs into one or something. It's not worth dwelling on it."

By not dwelling, and therefore, not trying to make unnecessary adjustments, Bard is back to being a force.

"I'm not going to lie, it stinks to go out and give up four on Opening Day and blow another one a week later to the Indians," Bard said. "It doesn't make it any easier or fun. But you do bounce back easier if you don't dwell on the results."

Manager Terry Francona has enjoyed watching Bard's return to form.

"I thought, in Spring Training even, he was good, not great, you know what I mean?" Francona said. "He wasn't quite locating. Still, it was 97 [mph] -- come on. But he'd get underneath a pitch every once in a while. Knock on wood, he's throwing the ball very well, not just because of the results. But he's throwing quick innings, he's following the glove. He's efficient."

Crawford, Buchholz both making progress

HOUSTON -- There are still no targeted return dates, but Carl Crawford and Clay Buchholz are both making some progress.

Crawford won't come off the disabled list when he is eligible to on Sunday, but he might not be that far behind.

Crawford (left hamstring strain) took batting practice on the field on Saturday, marking the first time he has done so since going on the disabled list. He ran at 70 percent intensity on Friday.

"He's building," said manager Terry Francona. "It was a real productive day."

Meanwhile, Buchholz, who is trying to overcome back woes, played catch on Friday.

"We'll kind of see how he reacts from there," Francona said. "Might be down a couple of days and then we'll start a throwing progression. We'll see how he reacts."

Buchholz is all but certain to be on the disabled list through the All-Star break.