Papelbon causes anxiety, but does the job

Papelbon causes anxiety, but does job

BOSTON -- Jonathan Papelbon has always had a flair for the dramatic.

Whether it's his music-blaring entrances at Fenway Park or his focused scowl as he peers in at home plate before every pitch, the Red Sox's All-Star closer certainly likes to make things interesting.

That is, except when it comes to preserving a lead. Then, he'd like to be as boring -- and effective -- as possible.

But clean innings have been hard to come by for the Boston stopper this season. His numbers (25 saves, 1.71 ERA in 42 games) aren't cause for concern by any means, but the truth remains that Papelbon hasn't exactly looked invincible in 2009.

Despite Papelbon's high volume of heart-pounding outings, manager Terry Francona maintains an unwavering confidence in his No. 1 reliever.

"He's gotten himself into some situations where he's had to really pitch and expend a lot of energy," said Francona, whose club will resume its weekend series with Baltimore on Saturday night at Fenway Park. "If I said I was worried about Pap, that would be pretty far from how I feel. I'm not worried, because I know he's healthy, and I know he's strong. It's just a matter of making pitch after pitch consistently."

Friday's appearance against the Orioles, in which Papelbon wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out to Luke Scott and Melvin Mora to close out a 3-1 win, was the latest in a season-long series of high-wire acts for Papelbon. Of his 25 saves, only seven have featured 1-2-3 innings.

"There have been a few more walks than we've seen in the past, but I think it's more realistic what he's doing this year," Francona said, referring to the closer's 19 free passes so far this year, a total he has never reached over the course of a full season.

"He's good enough where he can have those innings and still get away with it and preserve the win," Francona continued. "His velocity's good, he's healthy, and he's constantly trying to get better."

Pitching matchup
BOS: LHP Jon Lester (8-7, 3.87 ERA)
Lester was a tough-luck loser on Sunday in Toronto, yielding three runs on five hits over seven innings against the Blue Jays. His opponent, however, was Roy Halladay, who tossed a complete-game gem. The left-hander has been on a roll of late, allowing three earned runs or fewer in each of his past nine starts. In nine outings at Fenway Park this season, the 25-year-old is 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA. He was dominant in two starts against the Orioles earlier this year, going 2-0 and not surrendering an earned run over 14 frames.

BAL: RHP Jeremy Guthrie (7-8, 5.12 ERA)
Guthrie pitched eight strong innings on Sunday in Chicago, allowing just three hits against the White Sox, but two of them were home runs. The right-hander has yielded more long balls (22) than all but one American League starter this season, and is tied for second in earned runs allowed. Despite those troubling numbers, Guthrie has an opportunity to salvage his season with a strong second half.

Francona met with rehabbing right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (mild shoulder strain) before Friday's game at Fenway Park and said the pitcher "looked great." Matsuzaka was to fly to Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday night to resume his rehabilitation. There is no target date for Matsuzaka's return. ... Francona said knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (lower back) would throw again on Monday in a "best-case scenario." The veteran right-hander had a cortisone injection. ... The Red Sox have won 10 straight home games against the Orioles, Boston's longest home winning streak against Baltimore. ... Third baseman Mike Lowell has hit safely in each of his past five games since returning from the disabled list, going 7-for-17 (.412) with two doubles.

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Up next
• Sunday: Red Sox (John Smoltz, 1-3, 6.31) vs. Orioles (David Hernandez, 2-2, 3.55), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Monday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 11-4, 3.42) vs. Athletics (Trevor Cahill, 6-8, 4.50), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Tuesday: Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 1-1, 3.72) vs. Athletics (Vin Mazzaro, 2-7, 4.75), 7:10 p.m. ET

John Barone is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.