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Jenks is treading lightly

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 14, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Bobby Jenks has no idea how many Red Sox fans he already has on his side.

They’re out there, impatiently waiting for Jonathan Papelbon to give up a couple of runs or blow a save. That’s all it will take to start the debate over whether Jenks should become the closer.

Never mind that Jenks had a higher earned run average and WHIP than Papelbon did last season. Or that he pitched only two games in September because of a sore elbow before being non-tendered by the White Sox.

Papelbon had the worst season of his career in 2010 and blew eight saves. That’s ample fodder for the easily panicked.

Jenks was a successful closer in Chicago for five years, making the All-Star team twice and helping lock down the World Series as a rookie in 2005.

But after arriving at Red Sox camp yesterday, Jenks made it clear that he’s not after Papelbon’s job.

“I didn’t come here to step on his toes, that’s for sure,’’ he said. “If those questions do come up, it’s going to come down to the decision of the manager and whatever they think is best for the team. If that means whatever it means, they’re doing it for their own reasons.’’

The Red Sox did not sign Jenks to a two-year, $12 million deal to create controversy. He’s on the roster to provide stability in the seventh and eighth innings, something the Sox received only from Daniel Bard last season. The hope is that Bard, Jenks, and Papelbon will shorten games and erase the late-inning heartbreak suffered so often last season.

Manager Terry Francona considers Bard and Jenks interchangeable when it comes to the seventh and eighth innings.

“We wanted to get some help,’’ he said. “We were trying to go to Bard too much last year or wanted to go to Bard too much. I don’t think we did, but it was always an obstacle. [Jenks] can get lefties or righties; that should really help us.’’

Jenks knew what the job was when he took it.

“I don’t think he would have signed here if he wasn’t comfortable,’’ Francona said.

Jenks, who turns 30 next month, had the opportunity to close with other teams but relished the idea of pitching for the Red Sox.

“It wasn’t a matter of the money or the years. It had nothing to do with the decision to come here,’’ he said. “I wanted to come here and play baseball for the Red Sox. When I got that opportunity, I jumped on it. It’s the Red Sox.

“I don’t want to go into the whole Red Sox-Yankees battle just yet, but I’d rather be a Red Sox, for sure. I’d rather be here than anywhere on the East Coast, just leave it at that.’’

After spending the bulk of his career as a closer, the 6-foot-4-inch, 275-pounder will have to adopt a new routine, knowing he will be coming into the game earlier.

“It’s going to be different, obviously. It’s going to be an adjustment that I have to make on the field,’’ he said. “It’s going to be an adjustment day-to-day and something I’ll have to learn from quickly once the season starts and get myself adapted to that type of mind-set this spring.’’

Jenks did not pitch after Sept. 4 last season at Fenway Park, coincidentally enough, because of the sore elbow. It proved to be an irritated nerve and by the end of the season, Jenks was cleared to pitch.

“Very concerned,’’ Jenks said when asked how he felt at the time. “The more doctors I saw, the more MRIs, more X-rays, the better I felt because I knew there was nothing serious in there . . . All I needed was rest. There was no question in anybody’s mind that was all it was. It was a relief.’’

Jenks doesn’t expect any setbacks.

“My arm feels great. Right now it feels better at this point than it has in a little while,’’ he said. “I’m excited about that so [we’ll] see where we’re at coming into this year.’’

Like many relievers, Jenks will not require a lot of work in spring training to get ready for the season. He has told Francona and new pitching coach Curt Young how he likes to prepare and they’re fine with it.

“He’s been long-tossing but he’s not [thrown] off the mound yet. That’s just the way he’s always done it,’’ Francona said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t see him in games the first week. He doesn’t need to be. He’s always been an extremely slow spring training pitcher. There’s no reason to rush him into games.’’

Jenks politely avoided questions about White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and the critical comments about him made by Guillen’s son, Oney, on Twitter.

Those are concerns of the past. The issue now will be fitting in with the Red Sox and working with Papelbon. Jenks is looking forward to it.

“We’re fine,’’ he said. “I know what my role is. Coming here, we’ve been friends, shoot, for many years now. I don’t think that’s going to be any problem throughout the year at all.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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