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Time to get down to business

Slow start by Sox can’t be allowed to continue

THEO EPSTEIN Some concern THEO EPSTEIN
Some concern
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 15, 2011

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For general manager Theo Epstein, there is no escaping the slow start of the Red Sox, not even at a fund-raiser for his charitable foundation yesterday.

During a panel discussion on the business of baseball, Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy cracked that the season opener is tonight against the Blue Jays and spring training is over. It drew a big laugh from the crowd at the State Room on hand to support A Foundation To Be Named Later.

The team’s 2-9 start is not so funny to the man who put the roster together. But Epstein is optimistic that the remaining 151 games will play out differently from the first 11.

“Any time you’re not winning games, there’s some concern,’’ he said. “We don’t think it’s a representative sample of how we’re going to play. At a certain point, you don’t want to dig a hole you can’t climb out of.’’

Yesterday’s event included Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, MLB Network president Tony Petitti, and local business heavyweights Joe Preston of New Balance and Chris Wallrapp of Hill Holliday.

Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard also took part, along with Susan Goodenow, the team’s senior vice president of public affairs and marketing.

The Sox were described several times as a model organization. But that has not been the case on the field. They are hitting .230 as a team with only seven home runs. The pitching staff has the worst ERA (6.77) and has allowed 21 home runs, the most in baseball.

“We have all the talent in the world. We just need to put it together,’’ Epstein said. “Our starting pitching has been a little bit better lately. That’s the most important ingredient. Getting a good starting pitching performance is the foundation and you go from there.

“In the games we’ve gotten the good starting performances, those are the games we haven’t hit. That’s just the way things go when you’re in a slump. For the most part the bullpen has been good. The higher-leverage situations, we’ve pitched pretty well. We need to get some consistent starting pitching performances and hit up and down the lineup.’’

Manager Terry Francona has used nine lineups in the 11 games, but Epstein does not see that as a problem.

“When guys hit well, it’s not hard,’’ he said. “I don’t think the lineup is an issue. No matter where guys hit, it’s the quality of our at-bats as a team that’s an issue.

“If we have the kind of quality at-bats we’re capable of, you can pick the lineup out of a hat. It’s a matter of getting our good grinding approach. It’s early in the season and it takes guys a while to settle in. We’re not hitting yet like we will.’’

Epstein has seen improvement in the team’s approach at the plate in recent games.

“Certain guys are having better at-bats,’’ he said. “We’ve faced some good pitching and we’ll face a lot of lefthanded pitching coming up. But we have talent. We need to get into the grind and get guys going.’’

One particular problem has been the performance of righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka. He is 0-2 with a 12.86 ERA, continuing what has been two seasons of erratic starts. Matsuzaka is the No. 5 starter and is not yet in danger of being dropped out of the rotation. The Sox will try to solve his problems.

“We work with every player every day trying to get better,’’ said Epstein. “Guys who are going good, you work to maintain. Guys who are struggling, you work to find something. He’s pitching Monday. He needs to get better.’’

The Red Sox do not expect to announce a contract extension for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez before the end of the current homestand Monday . . . Major League Baseball officially announced the order of the draft, which starts June 6. The Sox have four of the first 40 selections and seven of the first 142.

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

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