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MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Center fielder not about to be left out

Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox' top draft pick in 2004, shredded the pitching in Single A and Double A, vaulting to Triple A just 13 months after his selection. If not for a wrist injury, he would have joined the Sox when Mark Bellhorn went on the disabled list July 18.

Which got us thinking: When might the club's top pick in 2003, center fielder David Murphy, be in a similar position to help the big-league club?

''I won't say I haven't thought about it," said the 23-year-old Texas native, currently playing with Double A Portland. ''I obviously want to be up there as soon as possible. I know a lot of players drafted the same year I was who are in the big leagues now.

''It's difficult because on one hand I have to have a sense of urgency and get there as soon as possible. At the same time, I was struggling. I needed to have confidence in myself, overcome the struggles."

Murphy may be hitting .281 with eight home runs and 56 RBIs, but as recently as June 7, he was at .217, not exactly what the club expected out of someone general manager Theo Epstein likened two years ago to a young Paul O'Neill.

''They always expressed their support," Murphy said of the Sox organization. ''At the same time I had to believe that they believed in me."

The problem, noticed by Sox talent evaluators and hitting instructors, was mechanical.

''I've just learned how to incorporate the lower half of my body, my legs, into my swing a little bit more," said Murphy, who in a recent series against New Hampshire hit .462 (6 for 13) with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, and 6 RBIs. ''That was a big thing. I opened up my stance. That helped with rhythm and timing."

And, by association, his average. Murphy is batting .393 (35 for 89) in July with 18 RBIs and 17 runs in 24 games. His eight home runs in 2005 are three more than he hit in his first two pro seasons combined.

''For me to get those results as consistently as I have, it feels great," said Murphy, an above-average fielder who received a $2 million signing bonus in 2003. ''I hadn't exactly pulled the ball a whole lot the last few years. I feel this is honestly the best streak I've ever had, the best hitting I've done in two years."

That has not gone unnoticed.

''Murph has worked very hard with our Double A hitting coach, Russ Morman," said Ben Cherington, the Sox' director of player development. ''Specifically, he has worked to get his hands started on time and eliminate a lower half drift. This has allowed him to get to fastballs more consistently and barrel up pitches in different areas of the strike zone. He's become a much tougher out.

''He earned a lot of respect with the way he carried himself through some tough times. We have always felt and still feel that he had the ability to be a major league center fielder."

Curt assessment
Jon Papelbon
, the dynamic 24-year-old righthander who stands a chance of helping the Red Sox as soon as this season, is 1-2 with a 3.57 ERA in four starts since being promoted to Triple A Pawtucket.

That line belies his overall performance, however. Papelbon has allowed just one run in three of his four starts. He was lit up in his other appearance (six runs in 3 2/3 innings).

When he gets to Boston -- be it this year or next -- Papelbon figures to have an ardent supporter and mentor in Curt Schilling, who watched and chatted with Papelbon during Schilling's recent minor league rehabilitation stint.

''He could pitch in the big leagues right now," said Schilling. ''Whether they want him to or not, he's got three pitches, he can move the ball to both sides of the plate. I don't think he's afraid. When he gets here, he'll be ready.

''His splitter is good, real good. At this point right now the things he needs to be successful in the big leagues are there. If he's healthy and stays healthy, he's going to have a very good, long career."

Triple threat
In 12 July games Kevin Youkilis is playing like a man out of place in Triple A. He's batting .432 (19 for 44) with 9 doubles, 2 home runs, 12 RBIs, 12 runs, 10 walks, and a .536 on-base percentage. Youkilis has played first, second, and third base in the last week . . . Portland's Marc Deschenes, who became the closer when Cla Meredith was promoted to Pawtucket and then Boston in early May, was promoted to Pawtucket Tuesday . . . That February deal for Alejandro Machado -- the Sox gave up only a player to be named later -- looks pretty good. In 94 games, Machado is hitting .319 with 13 doubles, 50 runs, and 18 steals . . . Jed Lowrie, the Sox' fourth pick (45th overall) in the June draft, is hitting .333 (22 for 66) for short-season Single A Lowell with 16 RBIs through 16 games . . . Portland lefthander Jon Lester was scratched from his scheduled start Tuesday. That, however, wasn't because of injury or the possibility of being traded. Instead, according to Portland media relations director Chris Cameron, it was simply a rest. The Sox like to skip a young starter at least once during the season so as to avoid overuse.

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