Daisuke Matsuzaka could be back on the mound by the end of next week for the Boston Red Sox.

Manager Terry Francona hinted before the Red Sox played Seattle on Saturday night that Matsuzaka could come of the disabled list soon.

Matsuzaka made his third rehab start with Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday night in Toledo. The right-hander gave up two runs on three hits while striking out nine in five innings. His next step is to rejoin the Red Sox in Boston after the off day on Monday.

“Yeah, I think you can pretty much expect him to pitch,” Francona said.

If Matsuzaka pitched on normal rest, he could be the Red Sox starter on Friday when the New York Mets come to Fenway Park. Matsuzaka has been on the disabled list since April 15 with a shoulder strain.

Francona and the front office would prefer to wait before announcing whose spot in the rotation Matsuzaka would take. The likely candidate is Justin Masterson, who would return to a bullpen role, but Francona declined to speculate.

Francona also said that Kevin Youkilis would begin a rehab assignment on Monday with Triple-A Pawtucket as he recovers from an oblique strain. Youkilis took part in early batting practice Saturday afternoon and then was scheduled to fly back to Boston.

The plan is for Youkilis to split designated-hitter duties with time in the field, all depending on how he feels. Youkilis can come off the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday.

“Hopefully I can get out there and play and everything goes well,” Youkilis said, “and then come back on Wednesday.”

AP-ES-05-16-09 2152EDT

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