Papelbon ready to get ‘started’

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BOSTON (AP) – The Boston Red Sox are still looking for a closer, even though they have one who was among baseball’s best in 2006.

Jonathan Papelbon saved 35 games in 41 tries last year and was the runner-up for AL rookie of the year despite ending his season early with a shoulder injury. Now he’s getting ready to pitch again – as a member of the Red Sox starting rotation.

“I want to go out and prove that I can do this as well,” Papelbon said Thursday before collecting the Red Sox pitcher, rookie and fireman of the year awards at the annual dinner of the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “We’re going to have a great competition out there. There’s no reason why, between the guys we’ve got we can’t have an outstanding closer before the end of spring training.”

A starter throughout his minor league career, Papelbon was 4-2 with a 0.92 ERA last season as a converted reliever. But he ended his season a month early because of a tired shoulder.

Papelbon met with the team’s front office and medical staff in the offseason and they decided it would be better for him to have a regular spot in the rotation. But since then, the Red Sox have not been able to sign an accomplished pitcher to finish games.

General manager Theo Epstein has added former starter Joel Pineiro and right-hander Brendan Donnelly to compete for the closer’s job with holdovers Julian Tavarez, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen and Mike Timlin.

“Those answers will emerge in spring training,” new pitching coach John Farrell said.

Could the answer be the same as it was last year?

“It’s going to require added conversation about what’s best not only for the Red Sox but what’s best for Jonathan Papelbon’s well-being,” Farrell said.

The Red Sox could wind up with a surplus of starters if everything goes well with Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. Already Papelbon has heard from fans who want him to return to the bullpen, and he knows he can end the closer search with one phone call.

“Of course I could,” he said. “I told Theo the other day, ‘I guess I’m going to have to go out and win five in a row to quiet everybody.”‘

Papelbon said he’s been working out for more than three hours a day in response to recover from his injury.

He started throwing 31/2 weeks ago, first from 30 feet, then 60 and now 90 as he makes his way to full arm strength at 150 feet.

“My arm’s stronger than it’s ever been,” he said.

Also honored Thursday night was Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was given the Ted Williams Award as the game’s best hitter. “To come to Boston, a team not even in your league, to be honored with an award named after Ted Williams – it’s an honor,” Howard said.

ESPN broadcaster Peter Gammons was given the prestigious Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to the game. Boston designated hitter David Ortiz was given the Thomas A. Yawkey Award as Red Sox MVP.

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Freddy Sanchez, who reached the major leagues despite childhood foot problems and a diagnosis that he might never walk, won the Tony Conigliaro Award for overcoming adversity through spirit, determination and courage.

In other awards:

• Pitcher Curt Schilling, the Red Sox comeback player of the year.

• Prospect Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox minor leaguer.

• Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, New England player of the year.

• Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, executive of the year.

• Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, Jackie Jensen award for spirit and determination.

• Detroit’s Jim Leyland, manager of the year.

• Phil O’Neill of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Dave O’Hara Award for media contributions.

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