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Not starting doesn't sit well

Payton eager to play more

TORONTO -- The phone call came yesterday morning after a night spent by Red Sox manager Terry Francona wrestling with whether he should start Trot Nixon in right field against Blue Jays lefthander Ted Lilly last night.

Nixon normally sits against lefthanders, but Lilly entered the game having allowed a .412 batting average against lefthanded hitters.

Francona made the decision to start Nixon, and he phoned Jay Payton, who would have played in Nixon's place, to let him know.

The decision wasn't a big deal, but it seemed to crystalize Payton's plight, one he's accepting as a team player, but not accepting personally.

''I really don't have much to say on it," Payton said. ''I've expressed how I feel about my situation. That's pretty much it, really. It's kind of out of my hands. Obviously, it ain't an ideal situation for me. They understand that."

Payton's is a classic case of an everyday player going to a world championship team filled with stars and finding he's now a backup.

Payton, who was acquired from the Padres Dec. 20 with Ramon Vazquez for Dave Roberts, knew it was going to be difficult, and it's lived up to his fears.

''I've tried to deal with it and see how things played out, but things aren't happening the way I'd like them to, but everything is kind of out of my hands," said Payton. ''For now, it's the situation I have to deal with. I'm used to playing every day. I still want to play every day. It's hard enough when you go to a new league and you go to a new role. It's one thing to have to do that when you're ready to do it. It's another to do it when it's not what you want to do."

Payton is a smart guy, a former academic All-American and ex-teammate of Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra at Georgia Tech.

Payton, who led the nation with 102 RBIs as a college junior, was loaded with potential. Scouts believed he would be the next great star in the big leagues.

He has become a solid major leaguer, but hasn't quite fulfilled the expectations some had placed on him. Still, he never thought he'd find himself in his present limbo.

The Sox had a similar situation with Doug Mientkiewicz last season.

Mientkiewicz, who was acquired at the trading deadline from Minnesota, wasn't happy with his role as a backup to Kevin Millar at first base.

''Part of it is a mentality you have to have," said Payton. ''My mentality is still that I want to be an everyday player and have an opportunity to be an everyday player. I'm not complaining because I'm not playing in front of any of these guys because they're all great players. Even if I was hitting .700 right now, those are the three guys who are going to play [in the outfield]," Payton said.

Payton has often blamed himself for his predicament because of his subpar season with the Padres in 2004, hitting only .260 after a .302 season with 28 home runs and 89 RBIs with Colorado in '03.

''Just keep working," said Payton, who has three hits in his last 21 at-bats. ''That's all you can do. Take your batting practice and your extra swings. You do the best you can for the situation you're in.

''I wouldn't say I could never get used to [being a reserve player]. I'm 32 years old and I feel I still have another three, four, or five years of being an everyday player. In the latter part of my career I would welcome the opportunity to be an extra outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. It's just that I'm not at that point in my career right now."

Payton was reminded of comments Bronson Arroyo made this season when many thought he was on the verge of being demoted to the bullpen when the Sox had six healthy starters. Arroyo said he was in the prime of his career and that he wanted to be a starter because that's what he preferred, and that's where his earning power was.

''I'm not going to have much bargaining power next year the way things are going," said Payton. ''I'm just trying to have good at-bats now. I'm hitting .200, I think, but I feel like I'm having some pretty good at-bats. I've probably lined out more than I have hits, but I've had my fair share of crappy at-bats, too. It feels like when you're not playing you have to be that much finer, and if it doesn't work out the way you want it to, it makes it that much tougher.

''I'm a strong person. I know myself. Nothing anybody can say is going to change the situation, anyway. I think I do a pretty good job of preparing myself and staying ready."

In reality, the only way Payton will play more is if one of the starting outfielders gets injured. Nixon is a candidate because he has said he will require surgery on his leg at season's end.

''I don't want to sit here six months from now and nobody gets hurt and be like something's going to happen and you'll play or whatever," said Payton. ''If something doesn't happen and I don't play and have only whatever amount of at-bats, I'm out in a position where I get into the offseason trying to find a job with not much to show.

''I have an option for next year, but I don't think they're going to pick up a $4 million option for a guy who might get 200 at-bats. I'll basically be a free agent at the end of the year."

Asked what his level of frustration is, Payton said, ''It's just frustrating. I wouldn't say it's low, medium, or high, it's just not the right situation for me. If I was here and it was a good team like this and I had a chance to play and be able to get more at-bats by playing well, that would be different. Those are at-bats reserved for these guys here because they've earned every bit of respect and opportunity, and our outfielders are guys who are playing great."

If it's any consolation, Francona told him he'd be playing tonight against young Blue Jays lefthander Gustavo Chacin.

Payton just shrugged and said, ''That's what I'm hearing. We'll see."


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