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Papelbon not medically cleared to close games

BOSTON -- Terry Francona doesn't expect Jonathan Papelbon to
move back into the bullpen, even though it would make the Boston
manager's life easier.

"If I had my druthers, he would be our closer," Francona said
Tuesday, a day before heading to Florida to get an early start on
spring training. "It's not happening. We have to respect the
medical people's advice."

Papelbon was thrust into the closer's role as a rookie in 2006
when Keith Foulke struggled to recover from back, elbow and knee
injuries. Papelbon saved 35 games in 41 tries and was the runner-up
for AL Rookie of the Year despite a shoulder injury that caused him
to cut his season short in September.

Because of the injury -- a tired shoulder, but short of the torn
labrum he feared -- doctors recommended that Papelbon pitch in the
rotation this year so he would have a more regular and predictable
schedule.

But the Red Sox do not have a closer as spring training
approaches, a major hole after an offseason spending spree that
included Daisuke Matsuzaka ($103 million), J.D. Drew ($70 million)
and Julio Lugo ($36 million).

Francona said it's possible Papelbon will wind up in the
bullpen, but only if the anointed closer fails, Papelbon struggles
as a starter and the doctors OK the move.

"I suppose the possibility exists, but I think it's a long
shot," Francona said, adding such a move would come "way into the
season."

Instead, Francona repeated that the closer will likely emerge
from the group that includes Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez. Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen are
also competing for jobs as relievers.

"We feel initially the closer will emerge from four
right-handers," pitching coach John Farrell said. "It is our goal
to definitely name one closer, so other roles fall in line as we
get closer to the start of the season."

Red Sox pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring
training on Feb. 16. Matsuzaka is expected the
night before, when he's supposed to meet with the crush of media
from the U.S. and Japan that will chronicle his every move this
season.

Francona said he was infected with his usual winter optimism.

"I'm 24 hours from being on a plane, getting out of here," he
said. "That's a great feeling for baseball people."

In other comments, Francona said:

• Starter Curt Schilling's announcement that he would like to
play another season might come to nothing. "A year is a long time.
He might change [his mind] again," Francona said. "What's
important to me it us trying to win now. Whether he pitches three
more years or one more year, there's no doubt you're going to get
the best out of him."

• Outfielder Manny Ramirez was content, even though the team
wasn't able to fulfill his trade request. "I think he's OK. I
don't think there's any problem," Francona said.

• Starter Jon Lester, who is recovering from lymphoma, will
report to spring training but be encouraged to go slowly. "He
doesn't want to hear any of it," Francona said. "But he's a smart
enough kid to understand. He's had a traumatic winter."

Francona said one of the first items on his spring training
agenda was to talk with Papelbon about putting too much pressure on
himself. Papelbon said last month that he wants to prove himself as
a starter; "I told Theo the other day, 'I guess I'm going to have
to go out and win five in a row to quiet everybody,"' Papelbon
said.

"We want him to understand it's going to be a long season,"
Francona said. "That will be the first thing we talk about."

Also Tuesday, the Red Sox invited 18 non-roster players to
spring training: pitchers Abe Alvarez, Adam Bernero, Mike Burns,
Bryan Corey, Runelvys Hernandez, and Travis Hughes; catchers Dusty
Brown, Kevin Cash, and Alberto Castillo; infielders Jeff Bailey,
Luis Jimenez, Joe McEwing, Ed Rogers, Bobby Scales, and Chad Spann;
and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Ochoa, and Kerry Robinson.