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Lackey, Crawford will be key projects

Sox sound determined to turn them around

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / September 30, 2011

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As the Red Sox head off following their epic September collapse, there remain myriad issues to resolve.

Chief among them is how to get starting pitcher John Lackey and left fielder Carl Crawford, two of the team’s big free agent signings, back on track after both had career-worst years.

“It’s a big priority, for obvious reasons,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein yesterday in a joint press conference with manager Terry Francona at Fenway Park.

Lackey, 32, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal in 2010, went 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA - the highest in the majors - and a league-high 19 hit batsmen.

Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million deal last December, struggled from the outset and wound up hitting a career-worst .255 with a career-worst .289 on-base percentage.

Crawford, 30, had 11 home runs, 56 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases, as all of his numbers were off compared with what he compiled in Tampa Bay last season (.307, 90 RBIs, 19 homers, 47 stolen bases).

Epstein said the club would take a three-pronged approach - physical, mental, and fundamental - in addressing the players’ issues.

“We’re going to leave no stone unturned, really, with all of our players and the organization as a whole,’’ Epstein said.

In Lackey’s case, Epstein was asked about the fiery righthander’s demeanor on the mound - which Francona had no issue with - and whether it needed to be addressed.

“I will say this, that’s nothing new,’’ Epstein said. “John has always been kind of emotional on the mound and he’s always been demonstrative. It kind of looks bad on the field. It looks as if he’s showing up his teammates. He was that way in Anaheim, too, so we knew that when we signed him.

“We also knew that he always apologizes the next day, that he’s a great teammate except for those times he’s rolling his eyes. But his teammates forgive him and they understand.’’

Said Francona, “I don’t think you can’t put in a guy’s contract that he’s allowed to make a certain amount of money but he’s not allowed to roll his eyes. I don’t think anyone in the clubhouse had a problem with Lack, nor do I.

“I think we certainly wished that it would’ve gone better on the mound.’’

Lackey went 2-5 with a 8.01 ERA in his first seven starts before going on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain. When he returned from the DL June 5, he went on a three-game winning streak, then lost his next three.

Lackey seemed to heat up with the rest of the team during the summer months, going 6-0 in seven starts from July 9 to Aug. 12 with a 3.92 ERA, 34 strikeouts, and only 7 walks.

Lackey, though, imploded in the final month, going 0-3 in his last six starts with an 8.22 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .339. He had no-decisions in his last three outings amid reports of his divorce.

“We have to . . . see if there’s things we can do with him, physically, to put him in a better position to have success on the mound,’’ Epstein said. “From a fundamental standpoint, there’s things we can do with him differently, to get his stuff and his command back to where it was. Then there’s the mental standpoint.’’

Crawford seemed to suffer a crisis in confidence when he failed to produce in Boston’s spotlight. After he reached the final month of the season resigned to the fact he was unlikely to turn his season around, Crawford made a public apology “for the year I’ve had’’ in his final post of a season-long diary for ESPNBoston.com.

Problem was, Crawford did so with a week and a half left in the season and the Sox fighting to maintain their dwindling wild-card lead. The season ended for the Sox in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss at Baltimore when a sliding Crawford failed to catch Robert Andino’s run-scoring hit.

“He has taken responsibility for [his season],’’ Epstein said. “I think that’s the first step.

“When I’m truly troubled about a player long-term who I know is still talented is when that player denies that there’s an issue, [says,] ‘I had a good year,’ and won’t look in the mirror.

“Carl has taken full and very public responsibility for having a very disappointing year. That’s the first step and the next step is what are you going to do about it?

“Well, we’re not going to abandon him. We’re going to work with him, if it takes all offseason, or if it takes backing away and then addressing it later on during the offseason.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to getting him back to the player that he was, because he’s going to be very important for us going forward.’’

Another issue that seemed to gain traction during September was the team’s conditioning - or lack thereof.

“I think we have high standards in that area and other areas and I can’t sit here and say those standards have been met across the board,’’ Epstein said. “So I’m not going to lump everyone in together, but I can say there were certain instances where we can and have to do better, and it’ll be addressed.

“If we require players to be in first-class physical condition and look out across the field and want to be in better shape and better condition than our opponents, and if that’s not happening consistently, 1 through 25 on the roster, then that’s a problem.’’

Epstein said second baseman Dustin Pedroia would undergo surgery this evening to remove a screw from the left foot he fractured a year ago . . . Third baseman Kevin Youkilis is expected to undergo surgery in the coming days to address his sports hernia.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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