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Rookie couldn't finish what he started

MINNEAPOLIS -- About two weeks ago in Tampa Bay, a day after Manny Delcarmen made his major league debut, Terry Francona was asked whether the young reliever might get ''last call."

''Not in the game," Francona said. ''He might somewhere else."

The insinuation: the 23-year-old rookie would not be closing games anytime soon. It wasn't a save situation but yesterday, in his fourth big-league appearance, Delcarmen entered to begin the ninth inning, having been handed an 11-4 lead by Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox.

He immediately recorded two outs, the second a strikeout with 96 mile-per-hour heat to Mike Redmond. But Delcarmen couldn't finish. He walked Juan Castro, surrendered three consecutive hits, then walked Lew Ford to load the bases. Curt Schilling entered, walked in a run (that was charged to Delcarmen) then ended the game.

''His arm is tremendous," Francona said of Delcarmen. ''Again, he's not the finished product. The good news for us is we didn't lose this game. There's a lot there to like. We won't forget he's continuing to develop."

Delcarmen hadn't allowed a run in his previous three appearances before allowing three yesterday. He's now pitched 3 2/3 innings, allowing five hits with four walks and four strikeouts for a 7.36 ERA.

Delcarmen's issue, as it was at times in the minor leagues, is falling behind and not being able to locate his fastball. Compound that with decreasing confidence in his breaking stuff (curveball, changeup), and he realizes he's going to struggle.

''My curveball hasn't been effective," he said. ''I can't get the feel for it right now. I'm battling. I can't stand walking people."

Delcarmen's changeup -- which he used to strike out Justin Morneau Friday night -- is a pitch he didn't throw yesterday.

''I didn't throw any changeups because I faced mostly righties," he said. ''It's tough for me right now. My fastball is my No. 1 pitch. When it's up a little I'm trying to bring it down."

Step 1

Keith Foulke, who hasn't thrown off a mound since undergoing left knee surgery July 6, will pitch a side session on a bullpen mound today at Fenway Park, the initial step toward returning to the staff. Foulke will repeat that step Wednesday and Friday. The next logical progression then would be a simulated game, and then, in all likelihood, the beginning of a rehabilitation stint.

General manager Theo Epstein is on record as saying Foulke would be expected to make four or so minor league appearances over about a 10-day period.

Foulke, meanwhile, has said, ''I won't go on any rehab stints. I'll go through my bullpens and I'll be back in the big leagues. I'm not going to mess with that. It's just a waste of time. Not a waste of time, a waste of pitches."

Told yesterday that Foulke hasn't warmed to the idea of pitching with Pawtucket, Francona said, ''He doesn't warm to a lot of things. I think he said he'd do anything we asked of him, if I remember properly. He knows what we're trying to do is in his best interests."

Foulke does not expect to close immediately upon his activation.

Damon takes break

Johnny Damon enjoyed a day off yesterday, one month to the day since he last sat out a game (July 7 at Baltimore). ''Johnny, I think desperately needs a chance to not start a game," Francona said yesterday morning. ''That's just the reality." You'd never know it. Damon's three hits Saturday gave him hits in 45 of his last 47 games and 44 multi-hit games on the season, tied for the most in baseball. He delivered two of those hits off reigning Cy Young winner Johan Santana, improving his surreal average vs. lefthanded pitchers to .352 (51 for 145). Entering play yesterday, only two lefthanded hitters had a higher average vs. lefties than Damon: Ichiro Suzuki (.371) and Washington's Nick Johnson (.366). Damon's .341 average continues to lead the American League . . . Had he been here, certainly Trot Nixon could have sympathized with Shannon Stewart, who resurrected memories of Nixon's out-counting faux pas in the ninth inning of a 2003 game vs. Anaheim. Stewart, in the first inning yesterday, caught an Alex Cora foul ball down the left-field line for the second out and tossed the ball into the seats. That was a two-base error that plated Kevin Millar for the Sox' fifth run of the inning. Stewart said he looked up, saw two strikes on Cora on the board, thought the ''2" was the out count, and underhanded the ball to a fan . . . Tony Graffanino, who came here willing to accept any role asked of him, clearly has established himself as the everyday second baseman. Consider: Francona started Cora at third and Graffanino at second yesterday, even though Graffanino had 14 starts this season at third and Cora none. Cora made two errors. ''Graffanino's been playing second base since he got here," Francona said. ''That's [Cora's] job -- to move around."

A pressing suggestion

Major League Baseball sent a directive to teams asking that they no longer distribute dietary supplements to players. The Sox as an organization began such a policy this season, leaving it up to players to obtain supplements if they wish to use them. The deeper implication of MLB's memo, according to a club source, is baseball's goal of ultimately ridding the sport of supplements entirely . . . Mark Bellhorn went 1 for 4 as the DH in Pawtucket yesterday. He's hitting .115 (3 for 26) during his rehab stint . . . How important has Manny Ramirez been to the Sox? Consider: In the 63 games the Sox have won, Ramirez is batting .360 with 25 HRs and 76 RBIs. In the club's 47 losses he's hitting .196 with six homers and 27 RBIs . . . Despite allowing eight unearned runs in three games at Minnesota, the Sox are tied for the fewest unearned runs in the American League (33) with the Blue Jays. A year ago, by comparison, the Sox had allowed 76 unearned runs through 110 games, tied with Arizona for the most in baseball . . . Gabe Kapler's homer to lead off the eighth was his first major league home run since Sept. 7, 2004, at Oakland, a span of 60 major league at-bats and more in Japan . . . Edgar Renteria made another error, his 20th. He's on pace for 29 errors, which would eclipse his career high of 27 in 2000 with St. Louis.

Gordon Edes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

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