SEATTLE – Terry Francona is giving Big Papi an extended rest this weekend.

The Red Sox manager said that struggling David Ortiz would miss the final two games of the road trip and not start again until this Tuesday, when the Red Sox begin a three-game series against the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Francona stressed that he’s not benching his slugger, as some have suggested. He just wants to give Ortiz a chance to clear his head and relax.

“I really want to get him through the off day,” Francona said. “I think it’s good for him.”

Ortiz sat out Friday’s opener against Seattle a day after he went 0 for 7 and tied a team record by stranding 12 runners against the Los Angeles Angels

Ortiz is hitting just .208 with no homers in 144 at-bats. He has not gone this long without a homer since Sept. 9, 1998, to June 9, 2000 – partial seasons with the Minnesota Twins.

For the second day in a row, Ortiz did not discuss his slump. When he approached, he shook his head and declined to speak.

The Mariners started a left-hander in Garrett Olson, but Francona said that wasn’t the basis for his decision to sit Ortiz.

His struggles are not affecting his popularity with fans. When Ortiz came out of the dugout for batting practice, he was cheered by the sizable contingent of Red Sox fans at Safeco Field. He then put on a power display, hitting several deep home runs into the right field bleachers.

Francona said Ortiz has been his usual, bubbly self in the clubhouse, except for Friday afternoon.

When Francona saw him, he could tell the pressures of dealing with the slump had begun to affect him.

That’s when he decided Ortiz needed a break.

“It looked like he had been fighting his pillow,” Francona said.

Dice-K and Youkilis nearing return

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.”


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