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Mailbag: Who starts at second?

Mailbag: Second base first on fans' minds

I'm sure you are getting thousands of e-mails from fans about Alex Cora and Dustin Pedroia. Isn't it about time manager Terry Francona realizes Pedroia isn't ready? Cora has proved he should be in there every day.
-- Ed C., West Tremont, Maine

It's not as easy as you make it sound. Francona has the responsibility of balancing the short-term needs of the team and the long-term development of certain players. Pedroia is someone the Red Sox value highly. By burying Pedroia now, you run the risk of losing him for good. And as hot as Cora has been lately, utility players tend to get exposed when they play every single day. Also, Pedroia had four hits in six at-bats at Minnesota this weekend, so perhaps Tito's patience is starting to pay off.

Who is closer to returning: Jon Lester or Matt Clement? When one of them returns, what will happen to the other one?
-- Jacob J., Glastonbury, Conn.

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Lester is probably a few weeks from returning, while we're still talking months with Clement. A lot of people don't realize what a significant surgery Clement had. His rotator cuff and labrum both underwent extensive repairs. There is no guarantee he will pitch this season, but Clement is doing everything in his power to get back. I'd expect to see Lester on the Fenway Park mound sometime during June.

What's up with Dice-K? A friend who is (conveniently enough) a Yankees fan pointed out to me that he seems to be getting worse with each start. Are the Red Sox getting concerned that he isn't looking like the $103.1 million guy they paid for, or is it still too early to tell?
-- Kyle P., Sterling, Va.

Flash back to the grand unveiling for Daisuke Matsuzaka at Fenway in December. Unprompted, Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino urged the assembled media to view Matsuzaka as a long-term acquisition. The Red Sox have him signed for six years and aren't banking the entire $103.1 million investment on 2007. Obviously, Matsuzaka is going through some adjustments right now, be it the different size of the baseball and the narrower strike zone, not to mention living in an entirely new culture. The guy has great stuff, so I wouldn't let a three-start slump cause panic. This is a story that will evolve all year long.

When Jonathan Papelbon runs onto the field in the ninth inning, what song do they play? Everyone knows that Mariano Rivera has "Enter Sandman" and Trevor Hoffman has "Hells Bells." How come Papelbon's song is sort of a secret?
-- Steven R., Boston

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Actually, Papelbon's song is no secret. When he comes out of the Fenway bullpen, the song you hear is "Wild Thing" by the Troggs. I think this is Papelbon's way of paying tribute to the character of Rick Vaughn -- played by Charlie Sheen -- in the movie "Major League."

With the way Tim Wakefield pitches, do you think he can pitch to the age of 45-50? I really can't see him deteriorating quickly.
-- Thomas S., Howell, N.J.

Phil Niekro pitched until he was 48. Charlie Hough stayed at it until he was 46. So, yes, if Wakefield wants to pitch that long, I think he can. The key is avoiding the type of nagging injuries he had last year. But the way Wakefield takes care of himself, I think he can pitch for as long as he wants to.

With Lester expected to replace Julian Tavarez in the starting rotation, I was wondering what would have happened if Papelbon had stayed in the rotation. Who would Lester have bumped? Certainly not Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett or Matsuzaka, and it's highly unlikely that Wakefield would have been moved. Would Papelbon have been moved back to the bullpen anyway? Or would Lester spend 2007 in the 'pen, getting spot starts if anyone had been injured?
-- Allan W., Mississauga, Ontario

That's definitely the best hypothetical I've had in a while. Honestly, I think Lester would have had to wait in the Minor Leagues until an inevitable injury occurred. Schilling, Beckett and Wakefield are all pitching at a very high level, and Matsuzaka is bound to figure it out soon. So it's hard to believe Lester would have bumped any of those guys had Papelbon wound up pitching out of the rotation.

However, I never really felt like Papelbon was going to be a starter for keeps. It always just seemed like he'd do it until he got medical clearance. Perhaps it would have worked out that Papelbon would have returned to the closer's role as soon as Lester returned. All I know is that in baseball, these problems always seem to work themselves out. Anyway, I felt like this hypothetical game was good mental exercise.

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

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