White Sox-Red Sox Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- While Kevin Youkilis became expendable with the Boston Red Sox, he's been plenty productive on the South Side.
Youkilis returns to Boston for the first time since getting traded as the Chicago White Sox - winners of seven straight at Fenway Park - open a four-game set with the Red Sox, who have much to be excited about with Carl Crawford's season debut Monday night.
After hitting .233 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 42 games with Boston (45-44) and having his commitment to the game questioned by manager Bobby Valentine, Youkilis - thanks also largely to the emergence of Will Middlebrooks - was shipped to AL Central-leading Chicago in exchange for Brent Lillibridge, Zach Stewart and cash June 24.
The three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, who spent the first eight-plus seasons of his career with the Red Sox, has been a welcome addition to the White Sox (49-39). He's compiled a .295 average in 16 games with his new team, going deep three times with 15 RBIs.
"All the memories I have and the stories are from (Boston)," Youkilis told MLB's official website. "But the thing for me is, I'm making my own story with this team, new stories and a new beginning. It's going to be fun, and the good thing here is we are in first place and we have to keep going and playing well, and stay in first place."
While Youkilis can expect to receive a warm ovation at Fenway, Red Sox fans should have lots more to cheer for with Crawford in the lineup for the first time this season.
The four-time All-Star outfielder, who signed a seven-year, $142-million contract prior to what was a disappointing 2011 campaign, is set to bat second in his season debut. He underwent wrist surgery in January before spraining the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow during spring training.
Crawford went 11 for 36 (.306) with an on-base percentage of .432 during an 11-game rehabilitation assignment.
"I'm not expecting any immediate impact. Just expecting one of nine, a guy who can go out there and be a contributor," Valentine said. "I hope that whatever he needs is provided him from his surroundings. I hope he's healthy. I think if he's healthy, he'll do fine."
Boston returns home after taking two of three at Tampa Bay - including Sunday's 7-3 victory. Daniel Nava and Mike Aviles both homered while Josh Beckett earned his first win in nearly two months.
"We need to get some momentum going in this second half," said Middlebrooks, who went 3 for 4 with two RBIs.
The Red Sox could be hard-pressed to build on Sunday's result with the White Sox coming to town. Chicago has outscored Boston 46-26 during a seven-game winning streak at Fenway.
The White Sox posted their 11th win in 15 games overall Sunday, 2-1 at Kansas City. Chris Sale threw eight strong innings and Adam Dunn belted his major league-leading 28th homer - his third in as many days.
After sending Gavin Floyd - Monday's original scheduled starter - back to Chicago due to soreness in his right forearm and elbow, the White Sox give the ball to Dylan Axelrod (1-2, 6.16 ERA). The right-hander pitched two scoreless innings of relief Friday, earning the win during a 9-8, 14-inning victory at Kansas City.
Axelrod has had a rough go at it over five starts, going 0-2 with a 7.11 ERA. In his last start, the rookie surrendered a career-high seven runs and three homers over three innings of an 11-9 loss to Toronto on July 8.
The Red Sox counter with Aaron Cook (2-2, 4.37), who is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts since being removed from the disabled list June 24. The veteran right-hander, though, wasn't very sharp in his final outing before the All-Star break, yielding three runs and nine hits over six innings in a 3-2 loss at Oakland on July 4.
Cook is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA over two career starts versus Chicago. A.J. Pierzynski has gone 1 for 12 against Cook while Dunn is 4 for 18 with a homer.
Updated July 16, 2012