Youkilis back in Red Sox lineup

BALTIMORE -- The heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox lineup is scheduled to return to the field on Friday night.

Kevin Youkilis, who was forced to sit out the last three games because of backs spasms, was back in his familiar cleanup spot in Boston's batting order for Friday's game against the Baltimore Orioles. That's a welcome sight for a club trying to sew up its sixth postseason spot in the past seven years.

"He makes the offense go," hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "He grinds out his at-bats. When he's in there, you can almost count on him eating up 25 pitches during his four at-bats. That's a heavy burden for any pitcher. He's not only making the opposing pitcher work, but he has the potential to drive the ball out of the park. He's an elite middle of the lineup batter. The times we go without him, it's tough on us."

To back up Magadan's contention, consider that the Red Sox are 248-163 (.603) and average 5.4 runs with Youkilis in the lineup during the past three years. In the same span, they're 29-29 (.500) and score 4.8 runs per game when Youkilis does not play.

"I think you see a guy who always seems to come through in clutch situations," closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "He can draw a walk. He can work deep in the count. He can hit a home run. It's like us pitchers; we feed off pitchers. Hitters also feed off hitters. When he hits, everybody follows suit."

Pedro Gomez is a reporter for ESPN.