BOSTON -- It's no coincidence the Red Sox are playing some of their best baseball of the season since Kevin Youkilis returned from the disabled list.

Youkilis is batting .321 (9-for-28) and slugging .536 in eight games since coming off the DL on May 22 after missing 22 games with a lower back strain. The Red Sox went 5-3 in his first eight games back after an 11-11 mark while Youkilis was on the DL.

"He looks great," said manager Bobby Valentine. "I try to monitor things when a guy is in the dugout as well as when he's on the field, and early on, he looked different. He's good when he's in the dugout now, he's moving really well on the bases and his at-bats are good, very consistent."

Youkilis has primarily played first base since returning, though he's also seen time at third. He homered over the Green Monster in Wednesday's win over Detroit and finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored.

The Red Sox have played first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in right field with Youkilis back in the fold while keeping rookie Will Middlebrooks at third in an effort to keep the offense rolling.

Middlebrooks was not in the lineup for Thursday's finale with the Tigers. Youkilis got the start at third and hasn't missed a game since coming off the DL. Valentine will look to get him some rest this weekend when Boston travels to Toronto for a three-game series beginning on Friday.

It wasn't an easy decision for Valentine to remove Middlebrooks from the lineup on Thursday, as he's hitting .316 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 24 games.

"We're going to [play on] AstroTurf [vs. the Blue Jays] and Youkilis is not going to play all three games on AstroTurf, so he's going to get his day off there," Valentine said.

No plans to put Pedroia on disabled list

BOSTON -- While the Red Sox wait to make a decision on the injured Dustin Pedroia, the club will continue to play shorthanded.

Pedroia has a torn adductor muscle in his right thumb and was out of the lineup for the third straight game on Thursday.

The Red Sox are down to two middle infielders in Mike Aviles and Nick Punto with Pedroia sidelined. Boston played with essentially a 24-man roster for the third time in as many games in Thursday's series finale with the Tigers.

"The swelling is down more and he's a little louder [about playing], but he's better, a little better," manager Bobby Valentine said. "I think he can play defense. He has that mold where he can swing the bat, but I'm not planning on that."

So as the Sox deliberate on whether or not to place Pedroia on the disabled list, will they continue to use a reduced roster during an upcoming three-game series with the Blue Jays that begins on Friday?

"Not necessarily. We're doing that day by day," Valentine said. "We have a plan, [but] we don't want to put the plan in until we need to. I suspect before the weekend is over there will be another infielder, but maybe not."

Will the Red Sox bring a Minor League infielder on the trip to Toronto as insurance?

"I don't think so. We don't have that plan," Valentine said.

Pedroia has not taken swings at Fenway Park since leaving Monday's game after five innings.

Punto is filling in for Pedroia, but he is just 1-for-8 in his last two games and hitting .128 with three RBIs in 27 games entering Thursday's contest.

"What I've seen is a lack of timing, and that's exactly what you should see," Valentine said. "The only way you really time this big league stuff is by doing it, and he hasn't done it very much. I expect the more pitches he sees the closer he's going to come to getting the timing he needs to make contact.

"Not a lot of options, a couple."

Dice-K yields just one run in latest rehab outing

BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit ball for Triple-A Pawtucket against Norfolk on Thursday night.

Matsuzaka struck out four, walked none and left the game after throwing 76 pitches (51 strikes). He surrendered a home run to the second batter he faced, Lew Ford, but that was his only blemish.

Thursday was his second start since he received a cortisone shot in his right trapezius muscle, near the shoulder and neck, on May 20. Matsuzaka is in his second 30-day rehab stint this year, his first ending on May 22.

Dice-K is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has started five games for Pawtucket. He was able to get another 30-day stint in the Minors because a different injury situation arose, which led to the cortisone shot.

Ross, Sox team up to celebrate kids at Fenway

BOSTON -- The Red Sox and outfielder Cody Ross are teaming up to celebrate children in June, designating it "Calling All Kids" month.

Ross and the organization announced the initiative on Thursday.

"My 5-year-old son loves to come to Fenway Park every day," said Ross, who has two young children. "I realize that not every child has that same opportunity, so we want to extend experiences to as many kids as possible. As players, we want all of our young fans to know how much we appreciate their energy and excitement. With the school year ending and summer vacation beginning, we can welcome them throughout this month and beyond."

Little Leaguers, RBI participants and baseball camp kids from around New England will be selected to take the field with the Red Sox before each game in June.

Some will also be selected to join Red Sox bench coach Tim Bogar to present the lineup card, and a child will have a chance to be the guest DJ in the scoreboard control room during Red Sox batting practice.

Children who are unable to attend a game at Fenway Park in June can still participate by submitting an essay or piece of artwork to the Red Sox Essay Contest and Art Competition. Ross and Darnell McDonald will be among the judges who will choose the winners. The winners of the two competitions will get to meet a Red Sox player and say "Play Ball" before a game at Fenway Park. Their artwork or essay will also be on display at Fenway Park this season.

Essays and artwork should be submitted to: Fenway Park Essay and Art Contest, 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, Mass., 02215.

Worth noting

• Aaron Cook (left knee laceration) threw a bullpen session on Thursday, and "if he gets through that, we're going to put him on a pitching program to figure out when he'll start pitching," manager Bobby Valentine said.

• Outfielder Darnell McDonald is going to play with Triple-A Pawtucket through the weekend as he recovers from a right oblique strain.

• Cody Ross (left foot navicular bone fracture) has no pain in his foot with or without the walking cast and will have another MRI to determine how much the outfielder has healed since the May 19 injury.

• Reliever Andrew Bailey is throwing from a distance of 90 feet as he recovers from right thumb surgery.

• Pitcher Chris Carpenter is throwing from 120 feet as he progresses from right elbow surgery.