Wells returning to rotation Friday

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BOSTON (AP) – Red Sox left-hander David Wells is set to pitch Friday night after spending most of the season on the disabled list, one of several injured Boston players progressing toward a return.

Wells had one ineffective start before going on the DL on April 15 with a sore right knee. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Wells will start the opener of a three-game series against Tampa Bay

“Is he going to be 100 percent sharpness? Maybe not,” Francona said Monday night before Boston’s game against the New York Yankees, but “that arm still works unbelievably well.”

The Yankees, hit even harder by injuries than their rivals, might get one of their veterans back soon.

Right fielder Gary Sheffield, on the disabled list since May 5 with an injured left hand and wrist, started at designated hitter Monday night for Double-A Trenton at New Britain and could return to the majors during the three-game series in Boston, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

“No matter what goes on with the rest of the club, our attitude is we’re not going to take him until he’s right,” Cashman said in New Britain. “It wouldn’t matter to me if everybody went down. I wouldn’t speed up the process.”

There was mixed news about other injured players on both teams.

For Boston, reliever David Riske was activated from the disabled list after recovering from a lower back injury and outfielders Coco Crisp and Gabe Kapler got good progress reports from Francona, but center fielder Wily Mo Pena was scratched from the starting lineup with a sore left wrist.

For New York, starter Shawn Chacon had a hematoma in his left leg drained and center fielder Johnny Damon, bothered by a foot injury, was the designated hitter Monday night. Reliever Octavio Dotel, returning from elbow surgery, could be back next month, but pitchers Tanyon Sturtze and Carl Pavano and outfielder Hideki Matsui should be sidelined much longer.

“The mood is good, even though you don’t have the same personnel that you’re used to having,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

With Bubba Crosby also on the disabled list, the Yankees’ starting outfield Monday was Terrence Long in left, Bernie Williams in center and Melky Cabrera in right.

Wells, who turned 43 on Saturday, made his only rehabilitation start Sunday since going on the disabled list. He threw five innings for Boston’s Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, allowing four hits, two earned runs and one walk while striking out three.

Francona said he felt better about Wells’ return this time than when the pitcher came off the disabled list to pitch April 12 against Toronto after struggling in a rehabilitation start April 7 at Pawtucket. In an 8-4 loss to the Blue Jays, Wells left with none out in the fifth after allowing seven runs and 10 hits – three of them homers.

Wells had undergone offseason surgery on his right knee and has had several injections of the joint lubricant Synvisc.

Left-hander Lenny DiNardo has struggled in five starts in Wells’ place.

The Red Sox got one pitcher back Monday when Riske was activated and lefty Abe Alvarez was returned to Pawtucket after one appearance with Boston. Riske has allowed two runs and two hits in one inning.

Crisp, sidelined since April 8 with a fractured left index finger, took batting practice for the first time since he was hurt, swinging about 25 times from each side of the plate.

“I was able to see the ball well. The timing’s a little off,” said Crisp, whose recovery has been slowed by kidney stones.

Kapler, who tore his left Achilles’ tendon last Sept. 14 “is pretty close” to playing, probably in extended spring training in Florida, Francona said. “Same as Coco. Maybe a week.”

Kapler didn’t know when he’d return.

“There’s a baseball shape you have to get into,” he said. “Obviously, we’re just concerned about getting Coco ready.”

Francona wouldn’t give a timetable for the return of Crisp, his leadoff hitter. Crisp was obtained from Cleveland after Damon signed with the Yankees.

“Because he was on his back for about seven days (with kidney stones), he’s got to get some strength back so he can go out and do his job,” Francona said. “I think that’s probably as much a hurdle right now as his finger. I think his finger’s doing pretty well.”

AP-ES-05-22-06 2117EDT

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