Papelbon -- or is it Cinco? -- looks to earn bragging rights vs. Sox

675698.jpg

Papelbon -- or is it Cinco? -- looks to earn bragging rights vs. Sox

PHILADELPHIA -- It's not just that Jonathan Papelbon is more wrapped up than ever when it comes to his fictional alter ego, Cinco Ocho.

But even within that conceit, Papelbon seemed to contradict himself as he met the media prior to facing the Red Sox, his former team, for the first time.

When Papelbon was asked if pitching against his ex-team would feel any different, Papelbon dismissed the notion out of hand.

"I don't think it will be,'' said Papelbon. "I'm just going to let Cinco take over, man. I'm not really worried about it.''

But seconds after saying this would be just any series, Papelbon did an about-face.

"I think I've been looking forward to this series since the day I signed here,'' said Papelbon. "Facing old teammates . . . bragging rights. It's like you played with your brother in backyard for so many years. You want to have those bragging rights. I don't want to have to hear from Dustin Pedroia or someone like that in a text message; I want to be giving it to him. It will be fun, though.''

Asked who had the advantage in a potential matchup -- Papelbon, or the hitters with whom he once played -- Papelbon chose a third option.

"Cinco's always got the advantage,'' said Papelbon. "Cinco Ocho always has the advantage. He don't know how he do, he just do. Never underestimate Cinco Ocho. Don't ever bet against him.'

Turning slightly more serious for a minute, Papelbon recalled his 6 12 seasons in Boston with fondness.

"I'm proud of, obviously, the championships we won there,'' said Papelbon. "I'm proud of being a part of an organization that taught me how to play in the big leagues. I'm proud of playing for a manager in Tito Francona that taught me how to be a man, how to accept failure, taught me how to accept winning. I could sit here and talk all day. But for me, it's a lot of memories and a lot of good people that surrounded them.''

Papelbon said the matchup with the Red Sox that most intrigues him is facing David Ortiz, or as Papelbon referred to him, "Big Sloppy.''

"That's my man,'' said Papelbon. "But he's not playing tonight. I knew he wouldn't play, man. Just the fact that, if he gets me, I won't ever be able to say anything to him. But if I get him, I'll always be able to say something to him.

"We're like brothers. That's it, man. It's bragging rights.''

Papelbon continues to monitor his former team from afar, but isn't terribly surprised that the Sox have had a sluggish start.

"Shoot, we had a slow start,'' he said, referring to the Phillies. "The Red Sox had a lot of missing piece (because of injuries), just like we've got a lot of missing pieces. It's hard to get going when you don't have everybody there, day-in and day-out. It's part of the game; that's why you play 162 games.''

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

McAdam: Buchholz is the relief the Red Sox need

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is the kind of season it has been for Clay Buchholz:

A little more than a month ago, he was merely taking up space on the Red Sox roster, having been summarily removed from the rotation after three months of poor outings.

He was in the bullpen, but the Sox were loathe to use him. Asked, memorably, why Buchholz hadn't been the choice to serve as a long reliever in a game in which the starter departed early, John Farrell candidly noted, in not so many words, that because the Sox still had a chance to win the game, Buchholz didn't make sense as an option.

Ouch.

But slowly, Buchholz became more effective in his new relief role. And when injuries struck the rotation, Buchholz got himself three cameo starts, during which he posted a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, topped by Tuesday's beauty -- 6 1/3 innings, one run allowed, nine strikeouts recorded.

Just as Buchholz has straightened out, however, Red Sox starters are suddenly stacked up like jets waiting for clearance to land at Logan Airport. Steven Wright returns from a brief DL stint Friday, and Eduardo Rodriguez is not far behind.

When he pitched poorly, the Red Sox didn't have any other options.

When he pitched well, the Red Sox have plenty of other choices.

So, now what?

"As far as Clay goes,'' said John Farrell, "this will be, I'm sure, a conversation (had) within (the organization). But setting that aside, he's throwing the ball exceptionally well right now.''

That's indisputable.

But the question remains: In what capacity will he throw the ball in the near future?

There's been a suggestion to keep Buchholz in the rotation while moving Drew Pomeranz to the bullpen. That would give the Sox a dependable lefty in relief -- as opposed to, say, Fernando Abad -- while also serving the dual purpose of putting a governor on Pomeranz's climbing innings total.

Pomeranz, who has plenty of bullpen experience in the big leagues, has also thrown 140 1/3 innings this season, eclipsing his previous major league high by nearly 40.

But Pomeranz is 27, not 21. He's shown no signs of fatigue. To the contrary, he's 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts. The Sox shouldn't mess with his success.

Instead, Buchholz should become one of the team's high-leverage set-up weapons, available in the seventh or eighth inning.

True, Buchholz doesn't have the swing-and-miss capability you'd prefer to have in the eighth inning, where the fewer balls put in play, the better off you are. But he can get lefties and righties out, and, pitching out of the stretch full-time, he's greatly improved his command.

Buchholz would remain the best option for a spot start if one of the five Red Sox starters faltered or got hurt. But the bullpen remains the best choice for him.

Ironic, isn't it? When he pitched poorly, he remained in the rotation for several months. Now that he's pitching superbly, he can't earn a permanent spot.

It's been that kind of season.

McAdam: Will this be Clay Buchholz's last start?

McAdam: Will this be Clay Buchholz's last start?

With Wright and Rodriguez set to return, Sean McAdam joins SNC to discuss whether Tuesday’s game against the Rays will be the last start for Clay Buchholz.