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Arroyo may wind up as the odd-man out

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Recently besieged for his opinion on all things Alex Rodriguez, Bronson Arroyo said he's viewed the video clip of A-Rod chopping his glove last October just once since the incident.

Doug Mirabelli, seated in the next locker, couldn't help himself.

"They don't show that on VH1," quipped the Sox catcher.

Indeed, in the weeks leading up to spring training, Arroyo attended the Grammy Awards and recorded covers of his favorite early-'90s rock for his CD, "Covering the Bases," to be released during the All-Star break.

Back home in greater Philadelphia, Terry Francona was thinking baseball and strategizing how to use his pitching staff. When fully healthy, with the emphasis on "when," the Sox will have six starting pitchers: Curt Schilling, Wade Miller, David Wells, Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield, and Arroyo.

That day of optimal health might not come until May, give or take a month, but Francona has given this some thought and is tantalized by what Arroyo might be able to do out of the bullpen. He'll make his spring debut tonight at 6:05 in Sarasota against the Reds.

"I'm sure he wants to start," Francona said yesterday. "I understand that. I don't think we've seen the best of Bronson as a starter yet. I think he's going to get better.

"The flip side of that is, if I had to choose one guy out of our rotation who could go to the bullpen and be a star, a Ramiro Mendoza . . . who can go 100 innings, that's him. So it's interesting. But again, to start the season, he's going to be in the rotation."

Francona came to fully realize the 28-year-old righthander's flexibility during the late stages of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. Arroyo pitched a scoreless 10th inning (no hits, no walks, two strikeouts) in Game 5. He came back the next night, in Game 6, and allowed one run on two hits in the eighth. He didn't get into Game 7, but what he did that night genuinely awed his manager.

Arroyo, despite pitching consecutive days, warmed up, preparing to relieve Derek Lowe after six innings.

"When he warmed up that third day and he felt better, to me, some guys can just do that," Francona said.

The manager opted for Pedro Martinez in that situation, but Arroyo's availability stuck in Francona's mind.

"It gives us a lot of flexibility," Francona said. "The way he throws that breaking ball, it's very intriguing. We may never have the ability to do that, because starting pitching is so hard to find. But I know he can go into that bullpen and be a star."

Arroyo's success against righthanders -- they batted .227 against him last season -- reinforces the notion that he'd be appealing out of the bullpen. Another plus: he's generally sharp early in games. Last season, opponents hit just .213 against Arroyo in the first inning and .235 in innings 1 through 3.

"Obviously I'd rather be in the rotation than pitch out of the pen, but I'll do whatever they want me to do," said Arroyo, who received a raise this season from $332,500 to $1.85 million. "I've been in that situation it seems every spring training of my career. Nothing is guaranteed."

This spring, Arroyo said, he will focus on pitching inside with results. He hit 20 batters last season, tying Cubs righthander Carlos Zambrano for the major league lead.

"It's going to be the same exact scenario this year," Arroyo said. "I'm going to have to get it in, and I may hit 30 guys. I can't change my game plan. If not, they'll hit me all around the ballpark.

"I think command of the inner half of the plate and the fastball against righthanded hitters is going to be huge for me. If I can do that and keep them honest off my breaking ball, that should allow me to pitch deeper into some games."

Pitching inside, of course, is what incited A-Rod to yap at Arroyo, then get into it with Jason Varitek, last July 24.

"I threw an 0-0 fastball on the outer half," Arroyo explained. "He fouled it off, took a good swing at it. And then I threw him a four-seamer in and missed pretty good, backed him up a little bit. And then I tried to double up in there [with a sinker] and try to get a ground ball to third or short.

"It just ran into his elbow. I think he made a comment afterward that I never double up on righties, and I hadn't in a while, which was true. And that's why it seemed a little off. But a guy like him, he's a little different. There's not a lot of guys who can hit the ball 400 feet to right-center on a good fastball away."

Arroyo, who will be linked to Rodriguez probably as long as he pitches, said he doesn't think there will be issues between the two.

"As long as I don't hit him with a four-seamer in the ribs his first AB, I think everything will be fine," Arroyo said. "If I do, I definitely think he'll think I was throwing at him on purpose on July 24 and we'll probably have problems.

"When I hit him I thought he was out of line because I wasn't throwing at him. But the play at first base, I wouldn't fault him for it because Game 6, desperate situations. Do what you've got to do. Somebody on our team might have done the same thing."

Arroyo, somehow, is more than happy to talk about A-Rod. At 28, Arroyo is focused, but still at ease.

"I feel good, feel like I've established myself as a major league pitcher," he said.

His objective this season?

"Hopefully, getting 200 innings and winning some more ballgames," he said.

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