BOSTON (AP) -Manny Ramirez is getting closer to returning from a strained muscle in his left side but the Boston outfielder appears to be a long shot to play in the three-game series with New York that began Friday night.
``He's not ready to play,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said before the opener of the series between the top two teams in the AL East. ``Maybe by the beginning of the week is somewhat realistic, but, again, you just don't know. He is making a lot of progress and doing a good job.''
The left fielder was out of the lineup for the 16th consecutive game Friday after being injured on Aug. 28, in a 5-3 loss in New York in the opener of the Yankees' three-game sweep.
Ramirez ``did well'' swinging the bat Thursday, Francona said.
``He came out on his off day and took a ton of swings,'' Francona said. ``I don't know how realistic it is for him to play in the next couple of days.
``I don't think it's ever been the case but I do think he's getting a lot closer. I don't think it's fair to put an exact day on it.''
The Red Sox lost their first three games without Ramirez but were 9-3 in the next 12. The cleanup hitter is batting .292 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs in 125 games.
``He hits the ball off the wall (in batting practice) and everybody thinks he should be playing,'' Francona said. ``There's a difference between taking swings in a controlled environment and then moving to BP and then going to a game.''
The Red Sox entered Friday with a 5 1/2-game lead over New York in the division. The Yankees began the day with a 3 1/2-game lead over Detroit in the AL wild-card race.

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