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09/19/10 12:27 AM ET

Francona remains confident in Lackey

Manager can't pinpoint why righty's numbers are off in '10

BOSTON -- Any time a high-priced free agent doesn't have a big year at the outset of his contract, fans are going to get restless, particularly in a market like Boston. But when it comes to right-hander John Lackey, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract last December, Red Sox manager Terry Francona hasn't lost any confidence that the investment will prove to be a good one.

Lackey has made 30 starts, going 12-11 with a 4.63 ERA and a .286 opponents' batting average. In his career with the Angels, he was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA and a .263 opponents' batting average.

Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult parts of Lackey's adjustment has been moving to the American League East, which is arguably the most offensive-minded division in baseball.

"Well, it's different," said Francona. "You're running through the Yankees and Tampa bay, Toronto and Baltimore. It's no day at the beach. But saying that, you look up at his ERA and it's higher than he's probably comfortable with. It's like a guy hitting that's lower. Saying that, we love him.

"When [general manager] Theo [Epstein] told us that day he signed him, I was thrilled. I still am and I think three or four years from now, we're still going to be. It hasn't gone perfect. That doesn't mean [it can't be improved]. There's a lot of good things there. He's a stand-up guy. I don't know that everybody's going to have their career year every year. I wish it would happen. But it doesn't always work that way."

Lackey has frequently said this year that he's felt unlucky. After his outing in Oakland on Sept. 11, he stated that, "Honestly, I think I could pitch the exact same next year and have a totally different result."

Francona acknowledges that it's hard to pinpoint exactly why Lackey's numbers aren't quite what they've been in the past.

"It's a really hard one to put a finger on," Francona said. "I think a couple things -- you don't want to make excuses. At the same time you try to figure out over the course of a long year if you make pitches, do balls find holes? I guess that's why you use the word consistency because there's going to be times when balls find holes. And I do think Lack's been that guy sometimes.

"But runs still count and the scoreboard -- whatever the final outcome is, that's what it is. So I just think, like I said [Friday] night, when he's down and executing pitches he can be really good. [Friday] night, there were some misfires."

Sox honor Minor League standouts

BOSTON -- The Red Sox honored some of their top prospects before Saturday night's 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays, as it was time to hand out the annual Minor League Awards.

Felix Doubront, who has been with the Red Sox since Aug. 6 but is unlikely to pitch again this year because of an upper pectoral strain on his left side, has been named the club's pitcher of the year in the Minors. Doubront split the season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, going 8-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 17 games, 16 of which were starts.

Before his final callup to Boston, Doubront made three spot starts, going 1-2 with a 4.11 ERA. He beat the Dodgers in his debut at Fenway on June 18. As a reliever, he was 1-0 with a 4.66 ERA in nine outings.

Doubront suffered his injury Aug. 31, and the Red Sox have taken a conservative approach. He will be reexamined on Monday.

"I think logic kind of says that this kid's probably not going to pitch again [this season]," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We're getting to that point. I do think what we'd like to do is get him ramped up so when we send him off after the season we have a feeling that 'OK, he can turn it loose.' There's not any issues. Then he can go about his winter program.

"He's a kid that has to -- he needs to have a good winter program. He's a young, really exciting pitcher. But he's still got to work on his body. So he needs to have a good winter. But we'd like to make sure that he knows and we know that when he lets it go, and we kind of send him off knowing that he's OK."

The club named offensive co-players of the year in first baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Rizzo was diagnosed with lymphoma in May 2008, but has come all the way back. He hit .260 with 42 doubles, 25 homers, 100 RBIs and 61 walks in 136 games this season between Class A Salem and Double-A Portland.

"For my family, it means a lot," said Rizzo. "They've helped me through a lot. And the Red Sox, they helped me through everything as well. They're tremendous. There's not a day that goes by when I don't remember what I had to go through. A certain situation will come up, and I'll just get nauseous out of nowhere. Just any little thing. It's great to have this award."

At a position where offense is always a highly valued trait, Lavarnway thrived, batting .288 with 27 doubles, 22 homers and 70 walks in 126 games for Salem and Portland.

"It's been great, being able to have my family here and to see the look in my mother's eyes when they called us out on the field and I got to shake [general manager Theo Epstein's] hand and Tito's," said Lavarnway. "It's great to see all the guys, the guys I met in Spring Training and got to work out with a lot and now they're on the big league club, that's pretty exciting. It's good to be here."

The defensive Player of the Year was center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin of Double-A Portland, who couldn't be at Fenway to receive his award Saturday because he is back home in Taiwan. The baserunner of the year is Jeremy Hazelbaker, who stole 63 bases for Class A Greenville, the most by a Sox farmhand since Gus Burgess stole 68 in 1981. Hazelbaker was also unable to attend the awards ceremony because Greenville was still in the South Atlantic Championship Series. They were knocked out Saturday night.

Tito wishes Torre well

BOSTON -- Even during the years when they were opposite each other in the heated Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Red Sox manager Terry Francona always expressed admiration for Joe Torre. After learning on Friday that Torre will step down as Dodgers manager after this season, Francona wrote him a note.

"I actually sent him a note [Friday] night [to say that] I hope that whatever he's doing, he's doing on his own terms," Francona said. "Because I think he deserves that. He's been doing it for a long time and there's a lot of respect from a lot of people in how he conducts himself. So I hope he's happy with the decision he made. That's kind of what I care about."

Francona is 51 and can't imagine managing until he's 70 like Torre.

"I can't even see myself being alive at 70," quipped Francona. "I'm sure I'll be a heart attack or two into it by then."

In all seriousness, Francona thinks that he will manage as long as he can still give it everything he has.

"I think everybody's different. To do this job, I think you have to be all in," Francona said. "If you're not, it doesn't work. When it comes to a point where maybe you can't be or you don't want to be, it's time to do something else. I can see where that ... the travel, not the pressure, but kind of the pressure you put on yourself to do well. I can see where that can get at you a little bit."

Worth noting

Right fielder J.D. Drew returned from his four-game absence (right ankle) and batted seventh against Blue Jays lefty Ricky Romero. ... Jarrod Saltalmacchia got the start behind the plate, with Victor Martinez moving to first. ... Red Sox manager Terry Francona enjoyed some warm words with Don Zimmer before Friday night's game. Zimmer was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. "I really like him," Francona said. "I always have. He's a lot of what's good in baseball. I've known Zim a long time. I just, I love him."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.