Injuries sideline 2 starting outfielders

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BOSTON (AP) – The Red Sox began the day with center fielder Coco Crisp wearing a splint on his injured finger. They ended it with right fielder Trot Nixon sidelined by a groin injury.

That leaves just one first-stringer in Boston’s outfield and he didn’t even want to be there.

Left fielder Manny Ramirez, who asked to be traded in the offseason, is the only healthy regular and will find himself playing with backups Adam Stern, Wily Mo Pena and Dustan Mohr until Nixon – who expects to miss 5 to 7 days – returns from a mild groin strain.

“It’s not going to bother us one bit. We’ve got a great pitching staff,” Nixon said. “We play good defense. We’re going to be fine with the lineup we have, even if I’m not in it or Coco’s not in it.” On Tuesday, before Boston’s 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Crisp was placed on the 15-day disabled list after hurting his left index finger sliding into third base. Mohr’s contract was purchased from Triple-A Pawtucket.

Nixon was hurt in the top of the second inning when he raced in and dived after misjudging Aaron Hill’s liner that fell in front of him for a double.

“It just kind of died. I probably shouldn’t have dove for the ball,” Nixon said.

He stayed in the game and walked in the second, took second on Jason Varitek’s single and scored on Mike Lowell’s double. Nixon grounded out in the third and was replaced in the field in the fourth by Pena.

“I don’t think it’s major,” Nixon said, but he didn’t know if he would go on the disabled list.

Crisp is expected to be out longer, several weeks according to manager Terry Francona’s expectations.

“I wouldn’t want to lose him for the whole year,” Francona said. “But for the short term we should be able to handle this.”

Crisp said he’s been a quick healer in the past and the best case scenario would be for him to return when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list.

Kevin Youkilis replaced him in the leadoff spot and Adam Stern took his spot in center field. “People put too much emphasis on it. All you do is get one extra at-bat,” by leading off, said Youkilis, who went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

Stern started his second straight game in place of Crisp and went 1-for-4 with a double and two RBIs.

“That’s the first time I’ve had back-to-back starts in the big leagues,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a comfort factor.”

Crisp joined the Red Sox in a trade with Cleveland on Jan. 27 after fan favorite Johnny Damon signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees following four seasons as Boston’s center fielder and leadoff hitter. Crisp was hurt in Baltimore last Saturday – a non-displaced fracture at the base of his left index finger. In five games, he is batting .333 with six runs, no RBIs and two stolen bases

“The idea is, give him 10 days in a splint and see where he’s at,” Francona said.

Francona was confident the team could do well despite losing Crisp.

“If we can’t handle it we weren’t going to be good enough anyway,” Francona said. “It’s kind of like getting hit in the stomach. You lose your breath for a second and then you get right back. We have good enough players to overcome this.”

The Red Sox signed Mohr to a minor league contract Jan. 23 after he hit a career-high 17 homers last year with Colorado. He and Stern are expected to split time in center field until Crisp returns. Youkilis should bat first most of the time, except when J.T. Snow starts at first base in his place.

Stern started in center and batted first in Sunday’s 4-1 win at Baltimore and had two hits and two RBIs. But he has had little experience above Double-A and the Red Sox planned to send him to Pawtucket later this month.

“I just don’t want to ask too much of Stern, make it unfair for him,” Francona said.

Boston selected Stern in the Rule 5 draft from Atlanta before last season, requiring him to spend a full season in the majors or be offered back to the Braves. Because he spent some of 2005 on the disabled list, he has to be with the Red Sox for the first 17 days this season before they can send him down without giving Atlanta a chance to reclaim him.

AP-ES-04-11-06 1906EDT

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