'Roughed up' Damon back after 7-game absence

Updated: March 22, 2005, 10:12 PM ET
Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Johnny Damon returned to the Boston Red Sox lineup Tuesday night without his fever or his beard.

He had missed the previous seven spring training games with flulike symptoms. During that time, he also shaved off his beard and trimmed his still-flowing locks.

"I got sick of it," the center fielder said. "So I had to trim it up and take on a new look for a couple of days. The beard is going to be back probably three or four days from now."

Damon played in just six games, going 5-for-15, before being sidelined last week. Not much of a fan of spring training, he knows he still needs more game action to prepare for the regular season.

"I don't want to leave spring training and have doubts," he said before the game against the Cincinnati Reds. "I want to make sure I'm ready. I know there's going to be some tough at-bats, regardless, during the season."

Damon went 0-for-3. He popped out to second base, struck out swinging and grounded to second before leaving the game.

Last season, he hit .304 with career highs of 20 homers and 94 RBIs as the leadoff hitter for the World Series champions.

Damon had been sidelined with cellulitis, an infection of connective tissue, and manager Terry Francona didn't have him in his original lineup Tuesday.

"He talked me into it," Francona said. "Let him shake some of that rust off."

Damon also plans to play in Wednesday's home game against Baltimore and should have enough time to prepare since Boston's last exhibition game is April 1 in Arizona. The season opener is on April 3 at the Yankees.

"You know how I feel about spring training," Damon told reporters. "It's not my favorite thing and never will be. I know we're here for the pitchers" to get ready.

He's certainly glad the past week of spring training is over. He's said he felt "miserable" with his illness, which caused swelling near his right ankle and groin. He also suffered aches and high fever and said he will continue taking antibiotics for five days.

"We still don't know how it happened, whether it was [being hit by] a foul ball, whether it was a spider bite, whether it was an ant bite," Damon said. "We have no idea, but I was pretty roughed up."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press