BOSTON (AP) – Mike Timlin expects Keith Foulke to regain his role as Boston’s closer next year.

Timlin, a 39-year-old right-hander, started the year as a setup man, but he became Boston’s closer after Curt Schilling returned to the starting rotation and Foulke was sidelined by knee problems in September.

“I expect Foulke to come back and be as healthy as he should be and get the job done,” Timlin said Thursday, a day after he and the Red Sox agreed to a $3.5 million, one-year contract.

Timlin was 7-3 with 13 saves and a 2.24 ERA in 81 appearances. He had been eligible for free agency, but opted to return for a fourth season in Boston rather than field offers from other teams.

“Usually, if you’re enjoying the place you’re playing in or you’re doing well, there’s no real reason in my eyes to change,” he said.

Timlin negotiated his contract with outgoing general manager Theo Epstein, who resigned earlier this week. Timlin said he was shocked and “not real happy” when he learned Epstein is leaving.

“He was pretty candid with me about how close he was to getting something done,” Timlin said. “He was very happy, but he also mentioned some things to me that I’m not at liberty to (talk publicly) about.”

He said the Red Sox need to plug holes in their pitching staff, including in the bullpen, and he expressed concern that “instability” in the front office may cause some free agents to balk at signing with the team.

“That’s not going to help, by any means,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

Timlin is 18-11 with 16 saves and a 3.30 ERA in three seasons in Boston. The 15-year veteran also has played for Toronto, Seattle, Baltimore, St. Louis and Philadelphia. His deal includes $750,000 in deferred money.

AP-ES-11-03-05 1522EST

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