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Terry Francona takes stock of the Red Sox

02.13.11 at 3:09 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona held court with the media for the first time since arriving in spring training. He had spent the last two days huddled with team officials and coaches to formulate individual spring plans for the players in camp.

The Sox skipper welcomed the big expectations that exist for his club. One reporter noted that former Sox bench coach Brad Mills told Francona, after Boston’s active offseason, “Don’t [bleep] it up.”

“I actually had a few of those,” chuckled Francona. “One of them was from [GM Theo Epstein].”

Francona touched on a number of topics. Among them:

MEDICAL

–Francona said that the team would try to manage any concerns about outfielder J.D. Drew‘s hamstrings. The outfielder has been concerned enough to have received medical attention from Dr. James Andrews in Alabama as well as doctors in Boston about his discomfort, though Francona suggested that the concern was not a huge one.

“It’€™s something that he has voiced some concern about,” said Francona. “I don’€™t think he’€™s real concerned about it, but it’€™s been there. I don’€™t think we want it to be a concern, so we’€™ll certainly monitor it.”

–The team doesn’t feel that it will have to put restrictions on second baseman Dustin Pedroia in his return from a broken foot, but it will try to structure his work to prevent him from having to stretch his foot out.

“When he does his work, we need to probably not break it up in segments. We try not to do that anyway. When they go out and do their infield stuff, they put their gloves down and then go to hitting,” said Francona. “But we’€™d rather not beat up guys ‘€“ and a guy like Pedroia is a good example ‘€“ for no reason. We’€™ll keep an eye on him. For as much as he talks and he likes to talk, he’€™s pretty honest with me about stuff. So I’€™m not too worried about that. there’€™s a reason we like him as a player, but at the same time we realize what’€™s happened to him, and we’€™ll keep an eye on him.”

BULLPEN: PAPELBON AND THE SETUP GROUP

–The manager does not foresee an issue arising with the acquisition of Bobby Jenks, a closer-turned-setup man. Francona, does, however, believe that closer Jonathan Papelbon will be able to use both the disappointment of his down year in 2010 as well as his status as a free agent following the 2011 season as sources of motivation.

“I don’€™t think he’€™s ever been real hesitant to say that [a free-agent contract can motivate him]. He aspires to be one of the high-bar (relievers). That’€™s OK,” said Francona. “There may be various reasons why [Papelbon] wants to bounce back. I’€™m not sure that I care, whether it’€™s financial [or anything else]. I just want him to get a bunch of saves. It looks like he’€™s in great shape. I don’€™t think this has been as much of an issue for Pap as it has been maybe for people talking about Pap. Right away, we signed Jenks. I was in touch with Pap. He knew where I stood on this, so I don’€™t think it was much of an issue.”

Bobby Jenks customarily follows a deliberate schedule for ramping up in spring training, and so he will be on a slightly different schedule than his new Red Sox teammates. He has yet to throw off a mound (something that most Sox pitchers have done already at this point), and he might not appear in a game in the first week of spring training.

‘€œThat’€™s just the way he’€™s always done it,” explained Francona. “He’€™s always been an extremely slow spring-training pitcher. … There’€™s no reason to rush him into games.’€

–Francona said that Jenks and Daniel Bard could be used interchangeably. While there has been plenty of attention on the acquisition of Jenks, Francona raved about the impact of Bard on a bullpen.

“Bard is probably the ultimate weapon in a bullpen. He has that ability to come in, like maybe no other reliever in the league — and I’€™m probably leaving out a guy or two — he has that ability to come in, finish an inning, go back out,” said Francona. “We’€™ll use that to our advantage. He doesn’€™t mind it. I think he actually thrives on it. We will use that to our advantage.”

While Bard had said that the offseason bullpen additions of Jenks and Dan Wheeler could be helpful in limiting his workload by perhaps five appearances, Francona said that the bigger boost might come from the reduced number of times that Bard has to warm up and sit down in the bullpen.

–Francona suggested that there were “obvious competitions” for the limited relief spots that exist in the bullpen. He labeled the wealth of left-handed options in camp — a group that includes Felix Doubront, Hideki Okajima, Andrew Miller, Randy Williams, Rich Hill and Dennys Reyes — as “interesting.”

–Reyes and Alfredo Aceves have some visa issues that require ironing out. He expected that Aceves would report, head out of the country briefly and then return, while Reyes would be a couple days late.

Tim Wakefield will be stretched out with a starter’s workload, at least through the beginning part of the exhibition schedule. Francona said it will be easy to find innings for pitchers through roughly March 11 — the team’s first split-squad game — and then the veteran knuckleballer will be on a starter’s program at least until then in order to provide a rotation depth option. Felix Doubront will also be stretched out.

POSITION PLAYERS

–Right now, the Sox are satisfied that center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is healthy. Coming off a year in which he missed all but 18 games due to broken ribs, that fact is reassuring to the club — especially since Francona remains convinced that the best lineup the team can field features Ellsbury as the leadoff hitter.

That said, the team understands that after missing so much of last year, the 27-year-old may not be ready for that responsibility on Opening Day.

‘€œHe’€™s healthy now. He says he’€™s doing everything without being limited, which is good because it had been a while,” said Francona. “It’€™ll be fun to watch Ells. A year ago at this time, we were talking about him playing left field, being our leadoff hitter and being that game-changer. Now, we’€™ve got the game-changer who’€™s playing left field. We can move Ells back over to center and, hopefully, allow him to continue his development.

“He missed a lot of time. Early on, does that sort of slow him down? We’€™ll see. I hope not. But, if it does, we have ways to take pressure off him. We can hit him lower in the lineup. We’€™ve been pretty open about that. If he’€™s feeling good, we’€™d love for him to lead off. If not, we can protect him a little bit.’€

–Should Ellsbury not open the season as the leadoff hitter, Francona said that the ability to get on base would likely be the most important determining factor in who helms the top spot in the lineup. He suggested that speed would take a back seat to the ability to get on base, noting that hitting a player near the bottom of the order can sometimes free him to run more than if a key run producer is at the plate.

–The manager feels satisfied with the team’s catching situation. He believes that the partnership of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek features a pair of catchers who can both do well in their roles.

“I think we’€™re pretty comfortable with that, maybe more than people realize,” said the manager. “Salty’€™s had a tremendous winter. This guy is potentially a power-hitting, switch-hitting catcher. If that doesn’€™t come to fruition initially right away, that’€™s not the end of the world. But we love the way he runs the game and he aspires to run the game. Tek’€™s in a good spot. Feels good about where he is, and that makes us feel better.”

–The Sox may carry just one backup infielder in Jed Lowrie. However, that will depend on the health of the team’s starting infielders.

OTHER ITEMS

–Francona said that he was pleased with the offseason work by both John Lackey and Josh Beckett, noting that Lackey, in particular, looked lean and fit. Lackey told colleague Rob Bradford earlier this week that he lost 15 pounds.

–Francona said that the li0n’s share of conversations revolve around the prospects and non-roster invitees who are unlikely to make the club. That is because, while the Opening Day roster is largely set, the club wants to get a handle for depth options if/when injuries or disappointing performances create a need for reinforcements as the season progresses.

“A lot of these guys aren’€™t going to make our club. It’€™s not even realistic,” said Francona. “But that doesn’€™t mean we don’€™t want them to have a successful camp where we can get a grasp on what we think they are, either for later in the season or for their development. We probably end up spending more time on the younger kids. Certainly the guys we don’€™t know.”

Read More: alfredo aceves, bobby jenks, Daniel Bard, dennys reyes
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