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Francona focusing on getting Red Sox turned around

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Terry Francona, manager of the slumping Boston Red Sox, on Friday shrugged off reports that his job could be in jeopardy should the pre-season favorites fail to make the playoffs.

Boston, the pre-season pick to reach the World Series after signing free agent outfielder Carl Crawford and trading for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, have gone into a September slump that has them fighting for a wild card berth.

"Other than that I think it's disrespectful for me to spend one waking moment to think about my situation. We need to win games."

Leading the American League East when the month began, Boston have gone 5-16 in the stretch drive and trail division champion Yankees by seven games.

Beset by injuries, poor pitching and inconsistent hitting, the Red Sox are struggling to make a two-game lead stand and hold off the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels for the last postseason spot.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said a slump can happen to any team, while acknowledging how frustrating it can be for one as talented as the Red Sox, who have beaten New York 11 of 15 times this season.

"To think that they're 5-16, I don't think any of us could have predicted that because of the talent in that room."

Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein said it was time for the team to show their mettle.

"We had a rough homestand, which was preceded by a rough road trip. We still have an opportunity to get where we want to go," Epstein told reporters. "It's all on us to turn this thing around. It's time to step up and show what we're made of."

Francona suggested there might be some good news coming.

Talented pitcher Clay Buchholz, sidelined by a back injury, appeared close to coming off the injury list after throwing two simulated innings before Friday's rescheduled game he said.

Hard-hitting Kevin Youkilis was also making strides to return from a hip injury and a hernia, added Francona.

Francona said it was his job to foster a sense of continuity for the club during a gut-wrenching slump.

"These are our guys that we believe in ... they know what's going on, I think they know where we are in the standings.

"They know how important it is to all of us. I believe in them and that we'll find a way to get this accomplished."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)