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Feeling better in this slot

Papelbon throws solid relief inning

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jonathan Papelbon looked like the closer of old yesterday when he came in for one inning in relief of Daisuke Matsuzaka. He fanned Ken Griffey on a fastball down and in, then retired Edwin Encarnacion on a fly to left and got Scott Hatteberg on a grounder to first.

"He had a better arm slot," said manager Terry Francona. "He's got a little work to do, but this was better."

"I'm getting more comfortable," said Papelbon, who was converted from starter to closer late last week. "Now this feels like the same thing I did last year."

Papelbon did not come back for another inning.

"We have a lot of guys here who ride the bus and need innings," said Francona.

Craig Hansen followed Papelbon and struggled mightily. He gave up two singles, hit two batters, and walked a pair, getting pulled after retiring only two batters (both strikeouts). He was responsible for all five runs.

"He was probably more throwing than pitching," conceded Francona. "I'm sure he's frustrated."

0 for these two
Coco Crisp went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and is hitting .167 (6 for 36). Jason Varitek went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and is hitting .108 (4 for 37) with 12 strikeouts . . . In an odd bit of irony, Julio Lugo led off the game and hit a grounder to short that was booted by Alex Gonzalez. Gonzo looked overmatched on the play -- something that did not happen once in his full season with the Red Sox . . . Alex Ochoa, who came in for Crisp in the sixth, has been told that there is not a spot for him on the Red Sox roster. Francona said the veteran outfielder has been given the option to start the season at Pawtucket or pursue opportunities elsewhere. The manager lauded the work ethic and professionalism of Ochoa and fellow veterans Bobby Scales and Joe McEwing: "Those guys have taken every bus ride and done everything we've asked. All professionalism and hustle. It would be amazing to have three guys like that at Pawtucket."

Holding the Fort
Julian Tavarez and Jon Lester remained in Fort Myers to pitch in minor league games. Tavarez pitched five innings of a Double A game, giving up one unearned run on two hits, two walks, and one strikeout. He threw 65 pitches. Lester pitched in parts of three innings for Pawtucket and gave up three runs on three hits and two walks. He struck out one and threw 46 pitches. Wily Mo Peña went 2 for 5 with a homer in the Triple A game while Doug Mirabelli went 1 for 5 with a double . . . Mike Timlin (oblique muscle) will throw on the side today . . . Francona launched into a lengthy discussion about how much he detests putting the headset on and doing in-game interviews from the dugout. "It just seems like a violation," he said. "The dugout is our place. I think the fans would respect that. It's something I feel strongly about. You look up and players see you with a headset on and you're down three runs. It's not a good feeling." . . . Manny Ramírez reported to City of Palms Park early but was sent home with a sore throat . . . Bronson Arroyo took some hacks in the cage. Arroyo is on the cover of the Reds media guide.

Old-timer's day
Seen standing around the cage at Sarasota: Johnny Bench, Bucky Dent, and former Sox pitcher Dick Pole, who is Reds pitching coach . . . A record 7,663 fans turned out at Ed Smith Stadium for the nationally televised Sox-Reds game . . . No more "road" games in Florida for the Sox. They play the Twins tomorrow night at Lee County Stadium, and the winner cops the coveted Mayor's Cup. Curt Schilling gets the ball against the Twins' Johan Santana and will stay behind when the Sox go to Philadelphia for two exhibitions against the Phillies. Schilling will rejoin the team Saturday in Kansas City . . . Dusty Baker was in the booth for ESPN . . . The Reds reassigned old friend Mark Bellhorn, who will take a few days to decide whether to accept an assignment to Louisville . . . Dan Wolfert of East Greenwich (Rhode Island) High School and Stonehill College (Class of 2000) is general manager of the Sarasota Reds.