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Red Sox notebook

Epstein looking within to boost club

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 9, 2008

On the day the Cubs and A's pulled off a six-player deal in which Rich Harden heads to Chicago, which could offset Milwaukee's acquisition of C.C. Sabathia, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein talked of solving his team's needs (bullpen, a hitter) from within.

Epstein continued to deny reports of the Sox' interest in Barry Bonds as a possible designated hitter if David Ortiz is slow to return. Ortiz, who yesterday reported that his left wrist felt fine after live batting practice Monday for the first time since he injured a tendon, took BP again yesterday and will continue to do so with a rehabilitation assignment possible next week.

"Yeah, got a lot of questions about it," Epstein said of the Bonds speculation. "First I've heard about it. Again, I think we're looking more internal if we need a bat. We really haven't discussed it internally."

Epstein also remained optimistic Jason Varitek could work his way out of an epic slump - 6 for 63 (.095). The catcher had the night off because manager Terry Francona didn't want him playing in a night game and then a day game today, with Kevin Cash getting the nod last night. Varitek is hitting .215.

"I think Jason is in a slump," Epstein said. "And I think he'd tell you the same. It's been a tough month, but do I think this is his true level and the way he is going to perform? Not at all.

"It's a pretty dramatic example of the natural ups and downs of the season, and we have plenty stored up for the second half of the season. He's a worker in good times and bad, and that will help him grind out of this for sure. No one wants it to happen sooner than he does. You have to be patient and let these things run their course."

The bullpen also is a concern, as it was last season when Epstein pulled off the Eric Gagné deal. He dealt two players, David Murphy and Kason Gabbard, who have helped the Rangers and also shipped out outfield prospect Engel Beltre, who appears to be rising in the Texas system.

Epstein wants to avoid making deals like that, but if he has to, he will.

"We're monitoring the situation daily, but I don't think you can force an evaluation," said Epstein. "We're going to be looking outside the organization, and it's our responsibility. There's only so many times a year when teams are open to talk trade. We'll explore every possible opportunity, but I really think the most help for this club might come from inside the organization."

Monday the team announced that starter Justin Masterson was heading to Pawtucket for some relief stints before coming back to the big club in that role.

Epstein was asked about the Rays being in first place in the American League East and having shown no signs of fading.

"We expected them to be much improved this year and we thought of them as a definite force in the division for years to come," he said. "We probably expected them to arrive as that force maybe next year. But they're here now. They're legitimate and really talented. They're a force to be reckoned with, so whatever we foresaw coming next year doesn't really matter."

Asked whether Tampa Bay's surge has made it imperative to do something, Epstein responded, "It doesn't change anything with respect to the trade deadline or what we're trying to accomplish this year. You build your team in the offseason. You build it to win. We kind of look at 95 wins as a goal every year."

The annual Hot Stove, Cool Music summer concert (Aug. 17 at Bank of America Pavilion), which will raise funds for Epstein's charity, The Foundation to be Named Later, was promoted yesterday.

Epstein, concert co-founder Peter Gammons, and Theo's twin brother, Paul, announced blues legend Buddy Guy and classic rockers George Thorogood and the Destroyers would headline. Tickets can be obtained at HotStoveCoolMusic.org or by calling Ticketmaster at 617-931-2000.

Crisp takes a seat

Jacoby Ellsbury played center field and Coco Crisp, in an 0-for-14 slump, started on the bench. Ellsbury, hitting .210 over his last 20 games, was back in the leadoff spot. Francona was asked whether Ellsbury was a candidate to move down in the order, but the manager dismissed it. He said he thought Ellsbury "has proven himself" as one of the best and most exciting leadoff hitters in baseball. Crisp came in when J.D. Drew came out in the ninth after his back tightened up. He likely will miss this afternoon's game . . . Manny Ramírez is $10,000 richer today, after his agent claimed an uncashed Ramírez paycheck that was issued by Reebok. The left fielder was on the state's abandoned property list, as was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ramírez also received $49.56 in interest . . . The Sox signed catcher Tim Federowicz from the University of North Carolina, a seventh-round draft pick, and assigned him to Single A Lowell. The Sox have signed 19 draft picks . . . Jonathan Papelbon has saved five 1-0 games in his Sox career, the most in team history since 1956.

Hot enough for you?

Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 16 games, the longest by a Red Sox player this season. Pedroia is batting .486 (34 for 70) with six doubles, three homers, and nine RBIs in that span . . . Ramírez's homer was his 507th, 23d all time. Next up: Mel Ott (511). Before last night's blast, the last time Ramírez homered was June 11, a stretch of 23 games . . . Francona ruled out using Papelbon today after he pitched in his third straight game . . . The Twins' Alexi Casilla walked twice, but his 14-game hitting streak was snapped.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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