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Sox in awkward spot with Farrell, Lovullo

Red Sox interim skipper Torey Lovullo could be in demand for managerial openings.
Red Sox interim skipper Torey Lovullo could be in demand for managerial openings.BRIAN BLANCO/GETTY IMAGES

CLEVELAND — Red Sox manager-on-leave John Farrell is still battling cancer, and interim manager Torey Lovullo is likely to be a hot commodity in a few days.

It is a big bowl of awkward.

The Sox finish their season Sunday at Progressive Field against the Indians. That's when the managerial firings will start around baseball. That's when Sox boss Dave Dombrowski might start getting calls from folks who want to interview Lovullo.

Lovullo has been the manager since Farrell went on medical leave to be treated for Stage 1 lymphoma Aug. 14. The Sox were a whopping 13 games under .500 when Lovullo took over and have been one of the top teams in baseball since. ASaturday night's loss, the Sox were 28-19 under Lovullo.

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Lovullo deserves to be a big league manager next season, but that's where this gets tricky. Most folks around the team insist that Farrell is still the manager and will be the manager . . . but . . . if Farrell is not healthy enough to resume the position, Lovullo would be a nice alternative. The only problem with that is that teams looking for a manager probably will be calling Boston to ask about Lovullo, possibly very soon.

What's the fair thing to do? What's the best solution for the Red Sox? What would Dombrowski have done if Farrell had never gotten sick? Most folks would agree that no man should lose his job because he is sick, but some would say it's wrong to keep him solely because of his brave battle with cancer. It's too important to make the decision based strictly on public relations. So, what's the plan?

These are questions that can only be answered by Dombrowski, and Dombrowski is too smart to talk about the topic.

"We'll have to tackle that after the season,'' he said Friday. "It's a very unusual situation and we'll have to tackle that after the season.''

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Does Lovullo expect to be allowed to interview?

"I think so,'' said the interim skipper. "I think it's all very typical of what the process is.''

But this is an atypical situation. How do the Sox balance other teams' interest in Lovullo with in-house interests in having him available if Farrell is not well enough to return?

"That's a good question,'' Lovullo said Friday. "It's tough. It's very tough. I love the Boston Red Sox. I have a lot of great memories here. It's a great organization with great leaders and great owners. I just want to do what I'm supposed to do until the end of the season.''

Has Lovullo had conversations with Dombrowski regarding his future in Boston?

"Very limited,'' said the interim manager.

This is awkward, right?

"I think so,'' agreed Lovullo. "It's awkward in the way that you can't predict what happened to John. He's battling through some tough times. Everything has moved in a very awkward direction . . .''

On Thursday, Sean McAdam of Comcast SportsNet New England reported that the Sox already have decided that Farrell will return next season (health permitting) and that Dombrowski informed the staff of his decision in mid-August, shortly after taking control of the Boston baseball operation.

"I wouldn't get into any of that,'' Dombrowski said Friday. "I don't know where [McAdam] got that from.''

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"Nobody was ever really at the point of hearing that or being told that,'' said Lovullo. "We just made the assumption that John was the manager and we were just holding down the fort until he got back. That's been outlined because that was what we all expect.''

There's no hiding the fact that the Sox have played better since Lovullo took over. Lefthanded reliever Craig Breslow said that's merely a statistical anomaly, while Dustin Pedroia added, "If John was healthy and here, this would still be happening. Torey has done a great job, but John's our manager. We'd have played the same if John was here. We're all hoping he gets back to normal. We see him at home games and sometimes he's feeling good and sometimes he's on the couch. We just want him back to normal.''

It's well-known that Lovullo has avoided the manager's office at home and on the road.

"I felt like I was just here until he got better,'' said Lovullo. "He was never not the manager of the Boston Red Sox. He's always been and will continue to be the manager of the Boston Red Sox. I feel like that's his space and I wanted to respect that. I know what that office means to all the managers that are in this league. You work a long time to be one of 30 special leaders and I didn't want to disrespect that. It's been inconvenient at times, especially in September when locker space is at a premium and guys are doubling up. I could free up a locker and move into John's locker, but our guys have been more than gracious and understanding of all of it. Everybody knows that John is manager of the Boston Red Sox and that's not going to change.''

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Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who knows Farrell (Francona sat with Farrell for the first chemotherapy treatment), knows Boston, and knows the managerial world, said, "Torey's done a really good job, but I don't need to evaluate their manager. Torey's been interviewed before and now he's had a two-month interview and he's probably aced it.''

Things don't get any easier if Farrell stays and Lovullo stays. If those things both happen, try to imagine the climate around the team if the Red Sox get off to a bad start in 2016.

A big bowl of awkward indeed.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy