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Curveball for Cloninger

Wallace is likely pitching coach

Tony Cloninger, who had served as the Red Sox' pitching coach under Grady Little until he was forced to take a leave because of treatment for bladder cancer, was dismayed to receive a phone call yesterday from incoming manager Terry Francona informing him that Dave Wallace was the front-runner to become the team's new pitching coach for the 2004 season.

Cloninger said it was unclear whether he would be coming back in another capacity, but said he'd previously been led to believe he would be the team's pitching coach.

It had been widely assumed since Little's contract was not renewed after the 2003 season that Wallace, who was hired from the Dodgers by the Sox during the season and installed as interim pitching coach, would return next season as the full-time pitching coach. Originally, the Sox had talked to Wallace about a front-office position in which he would oversee the organization's pitching on the major and minor league levels, but there were strong indications that both the Sox and Wallace preferred he remain in uniform next year.

That apparently came as a surprise to Cloninger, who spoke by phone from his home in North Carolina after talking with Francona earlier in the day. Cloninger was in Boston last week and spoke with assistant GM Josh Byrne, and acknowledged that Byrnes made no promises.

"If Theo [Epstein] wants Wallace to be his pitching coach, and Wallace has been there to promote himself, then that's fine," Cloninger said. "I'm not mad at Theo and I'm not mad at Dave Wallace. But Wallace had made the statement when he came over that he wasn't there to be the pitching coach, he was there to be the interim coach. I thought he was going into the front office."

Cloninger, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer during spring training and began intensive chemotherapy shortly thereafter, returned to the club briefly, then went back home to North Carolina when the club had questions about whether he was strong enough to continue.

The Sox subsequently hired Wallace, and when Cloninger returned a second time, the Sox asked for permission to have both coaches in uniform and in the dugout, Cloninger said, but were told by the commissioner's office that would not be allowed. Cloninger was asked if he would work with the pitchers before games, but during games remain in the clubhouse while Wallace acted as the de facto pitching coach. That arrangement lasted only a short time, as Cloninger, who thought the presence of two pitching coaches could be problematic, elected to return home.

"I did them a favor by going back home," he said. "I was ready to be the pitching coach then. I was ready to go back to work then, but they pulled the sheets out from me and wanted me to sit in the clubhouse. But I made no noise and came back home.

"I told them I'd come back when they needed me, and I came back a week before the playoffs. But everybody under the sun -- Johnny Pesky, God bless him, and the nonroster players --got to sit in the dugout except me."

Cloninger said Francona told him the prevailing sentiment in a committee meeting Friday was for Wallace to be pitching coach.

"I don't why the committee decided to go in that direction," he said. "I hope it wasn't because of the cancer, because I'm fine. They told me they really appreciated the work I did with pitchers like Scott Williamson at the end of the season.

"I made a lot of sacrifices for them, and they told me I'd always have a job with the organization."

Cloninger said he would still be open to returning in another capacity.

Walker in mix?

The Red Sox had to decide by midnight last night whether to offer salary arbitration to their free agents, and somewhat surprisingly, after having all but ruled out Todd Walker's return, there was some sentiment to keeping Walker by offering arbitration. It was a long shot, but not out of the question. The Sox were expected not to offer arbitration to pitcher John Burkett or outfielder-first baseman David McCarty . . . .The Sox were still awaiting a decision from free agent reliever Keith Foulke, who was expected to be offered salary arbitration by his former club, the Oakland A's . . . One outside possibility the Sox might consider for left field if they move Manny Ramirez in a trade for Alex Rodriguez, according to one American League executive: Juan Gonzalez. There were also indications that in addition to Ramirez, the Rangers might also want a pitcher, like Williamson or BK Kim . . . Red Sox executives, including owners John W. Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, as well as GM Theo Epstein, were planning to leave today for the Dominican Republic and the opening of the team's new academy there.

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