Papelbon likely out for season, wants to start in '07

Updated: September 16, 2006, 12:41 PM ET
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NEW YORK -- Jonathan Papelbon's outstanding rookie season likely is over -- and his days as Boston's closer might be, too.

Boston seeks relief
The best available free agent option for Boston might be to lure Eric Gagne with an aggressive offer, in the hope that the right-hander actually decides to leave his beloved Dodgers (he's already talked about wanting to make a deal to stay in L.A.).

Beyond that, the Red Sox may have to consider a trade, or perhaps bring back Keith Foulke. Assuming that Craig Hansen will be ready for that job would be an enormous mistake, at this point, and I'm sure the Red Sox wouldn't take that leap of faith while building a team with a payroll that figures to be in the $120 million to $145 million range.

To read more of Buster Olney's blog, click here.

Sidelined by a sore shoulder -- but not the torn labrum that he feared -- since Sept. 1, Papelbon said Friday he doesn't expect to pitch again this season, and he's already planning a switch to the starting rotation next year.

"I'm probably going to be done for the year right now, unless something crazy happens," Papelbon said. "I just think it's smart, especially with what happened to [Francisco] Liriano. He's a young pitcher. If we were in this thing still, I'd go out and pitch."

Liriano, another contender for AL Rookie of the Year, recently missed a month of action due to an ailing elbow. The Minnesota Twins' left-hander tried to return from the injury, but left his comeback start Wednesday after only 28 pitches, saying he heard a pop in his elbow.

"The thing with Liriano has really opened up our training staff's eyes, and a lot of people's eyes in the major leagues," Papelbon added before Boston's scheduled game against the New York Yankees was postponed by rain Friday night.

It will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on Sunday, beginning at 1:05 p.m. The second game is slated for 8:05 p.m. The teams are also set for a split doubleheader on Saturday, meaning they'll play four times in less than 36 hours.

The Yankees would clinch their ninth straight AL East title by winning three of four from the Red Sox, coupled with a Toronto loss.

Relief Pitcher
Boston Red Sox

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
59 4 2 13 75 0.92

Papelbon said the plan to become a starter next year is not definite -- but he was already thinking about joining the Red Sox rotation alongside Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield. Coming off the injury, starting the season in the rotation as opposed to the bullpen would allow Papelbon, who made three starts as a rookie in 2005, to regulate his workload.

"If you look at what's going on next year, Schilling, Beckett, me and Wake -- we could have something," Papelbon said. "Nothing's set in stone, believe me. If we could go out and make a big acquisition, I'd be happy.

"We haven't really ironed out everything yet. This was kind of a quick conversation. They know I can start. I know I can start. I think they like, I like it, and I'll be able to run with it," he said.

Losing Papelbon out of the bullpen would force the Red Sox to look elsewhere for a closer. Keith Foulke, Boston's stopper for its run to the 2004 World Series title, is under contract in 2007 and remains an option. Eric Gagne, Octavio Dotel, Danys Baez and Scott Williamson are among those closers or former closers who will be available in free agency.

The 25-year-old Papelbon has 35 saves in 41 chances. He is 4-2 with a 0.92 ERA in 59 appearances with 75 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 68 1/3 innings.

He came out of a game on Sept. 1 against Toronto after feeling pain in his pitching shoulder. Tests showed no major damage, and the right-hander has been resting his shoulder.

"I'm just trying to get my strength back," Papelbon said, later turning his thoughts to his entire career. "I'll have to change my thinking [in] that I'll have to stay on myself to keep my shoulder strong. ... I'm glad it happened now."

Looking ahead to next season, Papelbon said there are some things he won't miss about closing.

"I won't miss the stress. I'll miss the adrenaline. I'll miss getting the last out," he said. "You've got to shift your thoughts. Starting's all about one day.

"I like pitching in general, whether it's starting or closing, it doesn't matter. For me, I want to do just what I think will help the ballclub."

Papelbon was mostly a starter in the minors. He made three starts and 14 relief appearances for the Red Sox in 2005.

"I think we're going to have to do what we think is best for him and work around that," manager Terry Francona said. "He's had that [shoulder] episode a couple times. I know he felt weak in Chicago (July 7-9)."

Francona said the team has had many discussions about the best way to use Papelbon, and the manager said he would meet with GM Theo Epstein and Papelbon to decide what makes the most sense.

"I'm just excited he feels good. That's a big relief for someone with his future," Francona said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.