Youk plays catch; Dice-K's return nears

BOSTON -- One of the first signs of activity at Fenway Park on Friday was a rather ordinary sight. It was Kevin Youkilis playing catch at around 3 p.m. in shallow right field. Given the situation Youkilis is in, however, that qualifies as something notable. Not jaw-dropping, but notable.

The brief game of catch, during which Youkilis twisted and turned in order to limber up his back, was the first dose of baseball activity that the veteran third baseman has had since going on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain.

The next step may involve picking up a bat. When that occurs remains to be seen.

"Seemed like he could swing but they're delaying him," said manager Bobby Valentine.

Youkilis is eligible to return Monday. That appears to be a stretch at this point in time.

In other clubhouse news:

Daisuke Matsuzaka is still on schedule to make his fourth rehab start Saturday in Pawtucket. It will be his second start at the Triple-A level. He threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the PawSox on Monday and is almost major league-ready.

"I would say he's very close," Valentine said. "He's done everything except string the innings together. He's worked on all of his pitches. He's happy with his pitches, he's happy with his velocity, his strength, his ability to field, pitch out of the stretch, the windup. If there's a checklist he's checked off a lot of those things and now it's just stringing innings together."

Barring anything unforeseen or a particularly rocky inning, Matsuzaka will throw about 90 pitches.

• Shortstop Mike Aviles is out of the starting lineup for the first time in over a month. The only game Aviles has missed was April 10 in Toronto.

Valentine said he was going to wait until Sunday to sit Aviles since that will be the halfway point of the team's current stretch of 20 games in 20 days, but he chose not to.

Marlon Byrd is also out of the starting lineup for the first time since his debut with the Red Sox on April 23. That gives Ryan Sweeney his first start in center field with Boston and allows Valentine to have two left-handed hitters in Sweeney and Daniel Nava against Cleveland righty Ubaldo Jimenez.

"Byrd's been playing an awful lot and I want to see what this alignment looks like now that we have another left-handed hitter here," Valentine said.