BOSTON -- In many ways, the fifth full season of Jonathan Papelbon's career has been the toughest. The statistics show a career high of seven blown saves and an ERA of 3.86, which is a spike of more than two runs from the career mark (1.84) the righty had entering this season.
It is as if Papelbon set unfair standards for himself, because the season he's having is still one many closers would take.
His 36 saves are the fourth-highest total in the American League, trailing only Tampa Bay's Rafael Soriano (43), Kansas City's Joaquin Soria (40) and Texas' Neftali Feliz (37). In 63 innings, Papelbon has 70 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .218 against him.
What does Red Sox manager Terry Francona think of the year his closer is having?
"A couple of things," Francona said. "It's a little tougher to answer that question after last night, because his ERA went up. He's still fourth in the league in saves. There's a lot that Pap does. He's just had [lapses], whether you called them hiccups or inconsistencies, and his walks are up, which has made his innings harder."
Papelbon, who tossed a scoreless inning in another non-save situation in Wednesday's 6-1 win, says that there have been no physical problems to cause the decline of his numbers.
"No question, no question," said Papelbon. "I feel stronger at this point in the season than I have in the last five or six years. That's a good sign for me."
The life is still very much there on Papelbon's pitches. The problem has been command.
"His split has come and gone from time to time, which I think has made his work harder," Francona said. "But I don't think there's anything out there to think, 'OK, he can't do it, he's throwing 87 [mph], he's nursing it up there.' We've talked about setting the bar higher. He's certainly not there right now, statistically. But that doesn't mean he can't be really good."
While the natural inclination for talk-show callers would be to suggest that Daniel Bard supplant Papelbon as the closer, Francona hasn't thought along those lines.
"And I also don't think that you immediately take that guy out of that role for a couple of reasons," Francona said. "One is it upsets what you've got, and the other one is that the guy everyone is complaining about, where do you think he's going to pitch? If you take your closer and make him your setup guy, all the people you don't want him to face, he's coming in with men on [base]. It's sort of a backwards [theory]. You better have a good closer and good rest of your bullpen. If you're short, you get exposed."
Papi eyes 100-RBI mark for first time since '07
BOSTON -- David Ortiz, the power-hitting designated hitter for the Red Sox, is the definition of a run producer. So yes, to reach 100 RBIs for the first time since 2007 would mean something to him.
The lefty slugger fell one short of that round number in 2009. But his four-RBI performance on Wednesday put him at 96 with 10 games to go in '10.
"In baseball, it's a big deal," Ortiz said. "It seems like if you get 100 RBIs, it means like you had a good year. If it's 99, it doesn't make it, [but] 100 makes it. I just try to help the ballclub as much as I can and get the highest [amount of] RBIs I possibly can. But it's like I say, one number makes the difference, because last year I got 99 and nobody ever talks about it, so I might as well go for 100."
The three-run homer Ortiz clubbed in Wednesday's 6-1 win over the Orioles was No. 31 on the season. After a rough month of April, when Ortiz hit .143 with one homer and four RBIs, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone -- aside from maybe the slugger himself -- to forecast a 30-100 season.
"It's well-documented," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think that slow start actually started after his third at-bat for some people. And now, he's just kind of swung his way into one of the top hitters in the league -- again."
With the season winding down, it's important to note that the Red Sox hold a $12.5 million club option on Ortiz for next season. If they don't pick it up, he would become a free agent for the first time since the winter of 2002, when Boston landed him for an initial cost of $1.25 million.
It is hard for Ortiz to imagine wearing another uniform. Aside from his on-field production, he has built strong community ties.
"I keep on telling you guys that I don't feel like going anywhere else, but if I have to, I've got no choice," Ortiz said.
There haven't been any talks between Ortiz and the Red Sox yet, but he is at peace with that.
"Well, it's coming to the end of the season, and things are going to start at one point," Ortiz said. "Even myself, I haven't been thinking about it. Sometimes I feel like I'm part of the family and I'm going to stick around longer, but I'm not the one who makes that decision. I'm not the one who makes that move. I'm trying to do my job, and hopefully take care of that after the season."
A reporter asked Ortiz if he would take a pay cut.
"A pay cut? Should I? Would you take a pay cut in your job?" Ortiz asked. "We'll see. We'll see. I took a pay cut already. Five years ago. Think about it."
Ortiz was referring to the four-year, $52 million contract extension he signed prior to the 2006 season, bypassing a chance to become a free agent. It is up to the Red Sox to determine if he becomes one this time.
"I just haven't been in free agency too much, but I know what I'm capable of doing, because I work hard every day to get better at my game," Ortiz said. "Sometimes things don't go the way you expect, but not for too long if you know how to bounce back."
Francona using balance when making lineup
BOSTON -- It would be nothing short of a miracle for the Red Sox to qualify for the postseason. That leaves manager Terry Francona with the nightly decision of how best to organize his starting lineup.
"We've tried every day to put together a lineup that can compete and win and have some balance, and it hasn't necessarily looked like that some nights, because we haven't done much," Francona said. "Our main concerns are us, and if we do it right, we're not going to sacrifice winning. We've pinch-hit. We want to win. We want to look at some of our younger guys, but we still want to win."
With Wednesday's lineup, Francona rested Marco Scutaro, who has been bothered by right rotator cuff woes over the past few weeks. Youngster Yamaico Navarro started at shortstop, with Bill Hall playing second base. Veteran Mike Lowell, who will retire at the end of the season, made the start at first base against righty Kevin Millwood. Prospect Lars Anderson had been getting the bulk of starts against righties of late.
Josh Reddick, another player still developing, made the start in left field.