Notes: Papelbon gives Sox scare

Papelbon gives Sox scare in spring debut

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox will likely spend the bulk of Spring Training figuring out how right-hander Jonathan Papelbon can best help their team in 2006 -- as a starter or as a key cog in the late innings. In a near cruel twist of fate, a third option almost developed in Boston's exhibition opener against the Twins on Thursday night, and it would have been the least savory one imaginable.

Just five pitches into the bottom of the first inning, Papelbon was struck an inch or two below his left ankle bone on what proved to be a painful 1-3 ground out off the bat of Twins leadoff man Shannon Stewart.

"My initial reaction was, 'I'm going down.' I thought my whole ankle was shattered," said Papelbon. "You get the out, and you worry about it later, after the fact, because it was tingling pretty good. It started loosening up, and I was able to go back out there."

If ever there was an example of baseball being a game of inches, this was it for Papelbon. He's just glad that the inches were in his favor this time.

"If that ball is an inch higher on my ankle, I'm probably done for three to six months," said Papelbon. "It would have shattered my whole ankle. Hopefully, the big man above was looking after me."

Manager Terry Francona was so nervous after seeing Papelbon go down that he sprinted out of the dugout, something doctors have not told him he could do yet, just four months after knee replacement surgery.

"Well, you saw me. I think I ran out there; I'm not supposed to do that," Francona said. "It was so loud, I thought it hit his heel. Not the heel of his foot, but I guess it got the soft tissue, which was good. He's got a bruise, but I don't think the trainers think there's any reason for him to get an X-ray.

"He'll obviously be evaluated by [team medical director] Tom Gill in the morning, but I think he's moving around fine. He just needed a minute to shake it off."

Papelbon went 1 2/3 innings, allowing four hits (including a solo homer by Torii Hunter) and two runs while striking out one.

And the ankle?

"It started feeling better; it was feeling good," said Papelbon. "It wasn't affecting my pitching. I was going out there and everything felt the same as it did when I was warming up in my bullpen. It's not really hurting that bad right now."

Because the Red Sox have seven starters and just five spots in the rotation, Papelbon knows that determining his role could well be out of his control, particularly when you consider his versatility and how much he helped the bullpen at the end of last season.

"Oh yeah, [Francona] straight up told me," Papelbon said. "He said, 'Look, I'm not 100 percent sure what we're going to do.' He said I could be doing anything. They were totally up front with me. That's a great thing, to have a manager be totally up front with you. You wouldn't want anything else.

"So, you know, we'll see what happens. I'll keep chugging along this spring and keep doing my work and do what I need to do this season to get ready, and we'll iron the rest of it out."

Coco's debut a hit: In what was unofficially his first game as a member of the Red Sox, leadoff man Coco Crisp came out of the gate strong, going 3-for-3 with a single, a double and a triple.

"That was pretty exciting," said Francona. "It's nice to see that extra gear in person. He had a nice night. I'm sure he was thrilled. I know it's Spring Training, but there's been a lot made of him coming over. It was nice for him to get off to a start like that. I know he was pleased; we were thrilled."

But Crisp wasn't thrilled enough to lobby Francona for an extra at-bat so he could go after the cycle.

"No, not in Spring Training," said Crisp. "That definitely would have been my first one, but I'm not Manny or Big Papi or those guys that hit jacks like that. So it would have been a long shot for me to get up there and finish off with that. I'm happy with my day. Go home, get a good night's sleep and come back."

Graffanino first at second: Though he has slipped on the depth chart since the end of last season, Tony Graffanino got the start for the Red Sox at second base in Thursday's opener. Mark Loretta, this year's starter at second, is expected to make his debut on Friday, when the Red Sox host Boston College and Northeastern University in a split-squad doubleheader.

Graffanino went 0-for-3, but he drove in a run.

There's a good chance Graffanino doesn't factor into Boston's plans for 2006, and the club has been open with him about that. Several scouts will probably monitor Graffanino throughout the exhibition season.

"We're going to make sure he plays enough," said Francona. "It's kind of win-win really, if he plays well. He's a good player. Obviously, he could be with us. He could potentially be with somebody else. I think we all acknowledged that. There will be some games where he plays third. I just didn't want to do that to him the first or second game. Let him get over there and get comfortable."

Manny soon: Francona doesn't think it will be long before star slugger Manny Ramirez gets into a game. That fact that David Ortiz is at the World Baseball Classic means Ramirez might be able to slide into a game at designated hitter while he gets his legs under him.

Seanez struggles: Reliever Rudy Seanez had a rough first game back with the Red Sox on Thursday night, issuing solo homers to Joe Mauer and Lew Ford in the third inning. Seanez also pitched for the Red Sox in 2003, posting a 6.23 ERA in nine outings.

"Two misplaced fastballs," said Francona. "I was just telling someone, 'I love this kid,' and then boom. Then he left one up and in to Lew Ford. Just misplaced fastballs."

Precaution with Pedroia: Middle-infield prospect Dustin Pedroia came out of the game after tweaking his left shoulder while striking out in his only at-bat.

"He had done it a little the other day against [Josh] Beckett, so just as a precaution, we got him out of there," said Francona. "We'll have him looked at by Dr. Gill [on Friday]."

Making the adjustment: Kevin Youkilis, entering his first spring as an everyday player, got the start Thursday night, batting third and playing first base.

Francona thinks Youkilis, a third baseman by trade, will make a fairly easy adjustment to the other side of the diamond.

"I think the biggest thing for him is just knowing where he's at," Francona said. "He's going to be a good first baseman. He's got good feet. He was a pretty good third baseman. Coming over, it's just kind of reacting when he has to turn his back to the play. Like the ball in the alley, it's not second nature yet. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it will be nice when he can do it by reaction."

Coming up: The Red Sox will host Boston College at 1 p.m. ET and Northeastern University at 7 p.m. in a split doubleheader on Friday at City of Palms Park. Both games will go seven innings. Curt Schilling will start the day game, and Matt Clement will work the nightcap.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.