Youkilis makes his return to Boston

There will already be a buzz in the air at Fenway Park this evening thanks to the season debut of outfielder Carl Crawford.

But the real excitement will surround Kevin Youkilis, who returns to Boston for the first time since being traded to Chicago, as the White Sox open a four-game series with the Red Sox.

"You know, I'm looking forward to seeing some people," Youkilis said. "It will be good to see some players I played with and people that have been around that city. It will be good to see some people and some friends that live there, and a few friends I made for a lifetime. So it will be good to hang out with them and enjoy it."

Youkilis spent the first eight-plus years of his career with the Red Sox but had his commitment to the team questioned by manager Bobby Valentine early in the season. That, plus the emergence of Will Middlebrooks, combined with the fact that he only hit .233 with four homers and 14 RBI, he became expendable and was finally dealt to the White Sox on June 24 for Brent Lillibridge, Zach Stewart and cash.

"I got nothing about any of that stuff," Youkilis said Sunday. "I'm over all the Boston thing this year. There's a lot of great past history, but this year I'm focused on the White Sox."

Youkilis has enjoyed a resurgence with the White Sox and is bating .295 in 16 games with his new team, hitting three home runs with 15 RBI.

"It will be different," Youkilis said. "It will be a different feeling, different dugout and all that stuff. Different emotions, but you have to bear down and really focus. I think once the game starts, that's all you really play for. It's what the game brings you. A lot of people there will be cheering me on and some people won't be. But that's the way it is in sports."

Crawford, meanwhile, has missed all of the season with a left elbow strain.

The four-time All-Star outfielder, who signed a seven-year, $142-million contract prior to what was a disappointing 2011 campaign, was 11-for-36 (.306) with an on-base percentage of .432 during an 11-game rehabilitation assignment.

"I'm not expecting any immediate impact. Just expecting one of nine, a guy who can go out there and be a contributor," Valentine said. "I hope that whatever he needs is provided him from his surroundings. I hope he's healthy. I think if he's healthy, he'll do fine."

The Red Sox come into tonight's tilt after taking two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend and enter this series a game over .500 (45-44) and in fourth place in the AL East, 9 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, but just 1 1/2 games back in the wild card race.

Heading to the hill for the Red Sox will be righty Aaron Cook, who is 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA. Cook lost to the Oakland Athletics back on July 4, but pitched well, surrendering three runs and nine hits in six innings.

Cook has faced the White Sox and is 1-0 against them with a 3.00 ERA.

Chicago will counter with righty Dylan Axelrod, who starts in place of the injured Gavin Floyd.

"One thing after another it is," manager Robin Ventura said. "But again, it's part of having a long season. You're always having stuff like that."

Floyd had some forearm and elbow soreness, but an MRI found no structural damage. Still, it will be Axelrod, who has made five starts this season and is 1-2 with a 6.16 ERA in eight appearances.

The White Sox continue to roll in the AL Central. They have won seven of nine and hold a 3 1/2-game edge on the Detroit Tigers in the division.

Boston took three of four from the White Sox in late April.