Red Sox notebook

Epstein addresses year’s failed plan

Victor Martinez tours the bases on his two-run homer, the Red Sox’ only damage against John Danks. Victor Martinez tours the bases on his two-run homer, the Red Sox’ only damage against John Danks. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 1, 2010

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CHICAGO — Pitching and defense, the two expected strengths of this Red Sox team when it began play six months ago, were “not acceptable’’ this season, according to general manager Theo Epstein.

“We didn’t pitch like we wanted to, we didn’t play defense like we wanted to, and we allowed our opponents to just score way too much,’’ Epstein said during an appearance on WEEI radio yesterday.

Epstein said he expects Josh Beckett and John Lackey to be far better next season. Beckett finished 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA, while Lackey is 13-11 with a 4.47 ERA with one start left. The two made a combined $30 million this year.

“To be top-of-the-rotation type guys and pitch up to previous levels,’’ said Epstein. “Those are still my expectations for those guys going forward.’’

Epstein acknowledged that Beckett was not the same pitcher because of a back injury that put him on the disabled list for two months.

“It’s hard to say how much it cost his performance before he went down, and then coming back he clearly wasn’t himself all year,’’ said Epstein. “He’s been very stand-up about it. He’s taken a hard look at his performance, taken accountability for it, which is an important first step.

“Does he still have weapons to get guys out, does he still have the ability to combine that stuff with good command and throw strikes? Absolutely. He was hit pretty hard this year, at times, when he was around the zone, and I think that’s largely a function of the injury.’’

Epstein came to the defense of outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who played in only 18 games because of fractured ribs.

“All in all, it became a lost season for Jacoby,’’ he said. “We certainly missed his contributions along the way. Importantly, I don’t think there’s any residue of this going forward.

“I don’t think these injuries are going to affect Jacoby’s career going forward. I expect him to pick up right where he left off when he comes back, and be a dynamic player, and our leadoff hitter and a guy who contributes offensively, defensively, and on the bases. I don’t think there’s any residue whatsoever, or hard feelings.

“I think Jacoby’s going to take this year as a learning experience, work out this winter and come back.’’

Epstein would not commit to the team having the same medical staff in 2011.

“I certainly believe in the people we have in place, and what will occur this winter is just a continuation of what already occurred during the season, which is to review the system we have in place,’’ he said.

Epstein believes the Sox are “pretty close’’ to being a championship team again.

“I think this offseason presents us with a lot of challenges, but at the same time it presents us with a lot of opportunities,’’ he said. “You have to sort of be reasonable about everything.

“In a year that ends like this, sometimes there’s a tendency to look at all the issues and all the problems, and you think that you’re nowhere close to a championship team. Certainly there are elements to a team that are close to championship-caliber.

“We have to completely fix the bullpen. We do have a lot of important position players eligible for free agency. We’re going to have to keep those guys or replace them, or some combination thereof. You can’t let the way things happened this year cloud your judgment about what you have.’’

Festive plans
The Sox will observe the 50th anniversary of Ted Williams’s final game during a ceremony before tonight’s game against the Yankees. Former teammates Johnny Pesky, Frank Malzone, and Bill Monbouquette will participate in the events. Pesky, who turned 91 Monday, will have his birthday commemorated as well. The team will pay tribute to the retiring Mike Lowell tomorrow with fans able to sign large poster boards at every gate that will be presented to him.

Good to go
Manager Terry Francona plans to stick with his rotation and pitch Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz, and Lackey against the Yankees this weekend. “They’re all fine,’’ he said. “If we have to make a change, we will. I don’t think we’ll need to.’’ . . . Hitting coach Dave Magadan turned 48 yesterday . . . A day after being felled by the flu, Francona was feeling much better. He will have his latest knee surgery after the season, however . . . David Ortiz, who was not in the starting lineup against White Sox lefty John Danks last night, is three RBIs short of matching Edgar Martinez’s record of 1,003 as a designated hitter.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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