BOSTON (AP) – Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon could face some practice hitters today as he recovers from an injured shoulder, after throwing a successful side session earlier this week.

“I think it was probably 70 percent. The ball came out nice and fluid with some movement,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. Pitching coach Dave Wallace “was really pleased, and probably, more importantly, I think Pap was.”

Papelbon has not pitched since Sept. 1, when he left the game in the ninth inning complaining of soreness. He is 4-2 with a 0.92 ERA and has converted 35 saves in 41 chances.

With the Red Sox eliminated from playoff contention, the rookie has said he does not expect to pitch again this year and wants to be a starter next season.

Francona said he hoped the team could settle on Papelbon’s role for next year soon after the season ends Sunday, so the right-handed pitcher and the team can begin to prepare. Papelbon made three starts for the Red Sox in 2005.

“A role would probably be beneficial,” Francona said.

Another young player, Dustin Pedroia, also could see a different role. He was called up in August and has played second base and shortstop. Francona said he could be ready for a daily role next year at second base.

“Do I think he could handle playing? Yeah, probably. I think if you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to be patient,” Francona said. “I am. I don’t know if the fans are.”

Current second baseman Mark Loretta, unsigned for next year, has had a solid first season with the Red Sox.

“You don’t know how things are going to work out,” Francona said. “We love Loretta. You look at the holes we have to fill.”

Francona also had a special guest waiting in his office before Friday night’s game against the Orioles – former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, who signed as a free agent in the offseason with Baltimore. Millar sat behind the manager’s desk and ribbed some of his former teammates.

“Trot, you’re not on the ’07 lineup card either,” he yelled at right fielder Trot Nixon, who will be a free agent after this season.

Not that Francona took Millar’s suggested lineup seriously.

“It’s in the wastebasket,” he said.

The manager doesn’t plan to take any time off before starting to get ready for next season – Francona said he’d be working at 8 a.m. Monday and would meet with each coach that day.

“We have to have an open, honest assessment of where we are,” he said.

As always, he said, tops on his wish list is pitching.

“You just never feel we have enough pitching,” he said. “I’d rather have some feathers ruffled and appease an ego than not have enough pitching.”


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