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Managerial musings: Francona says Cameron is at full strength

02.14.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona ran the usual gamut of topics in his daily session with the media at the Red Sox’ player development complex. But perhaps the most noteworthy piece of actual information came at the end, after the manager had explained that the Sox were not going to use the shuttle run as a conditioning test out of concern for players such as Dustin Pedroia and Mike Cameron who are returning from injury.

That, naturally, prompted an update about how Cameron is doing in his return from late-season surgery to repair his sports hernia.

“He’€™s good. He feels terrific. But the idea is to keep him that way. I’€™m kind of looking forward to, he’€™s so excited about how he feels, I’€™m kind of looking forward to that, because last year was tough for him,” said Francona, who said that the 38-year-old does not face restrictions in camp.

After signing a two-year, $15.5 million deal with the Sox after the 2009 season, Cameron spent virtually all of his first year limited by injury. With the winter acquisition of Carl Crawford, Cameron will be expected to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder, a role that he has shown a willingness not just to accept but embrace.

While Cameron began last year as the Sox’ everyday center fielder — pushing Jacoby Ellsbury to left field for the week in which they played together — the Sox will have Ellsbury playing center when both are on the field this year. Francona anticipates that Cameron will see most of his work in right field — a position he has occupied for 139 games in his career, compared to just three in left field — on days when both he and Ellsbury are in the lineup. Cameron, who hammered left-handed pitchers for a .357 average, .438 OBP, .690 slugging mark and 1.128 OPS last year, will make a natural platoon partner for J.D. Drew, who struggled against southpaws last year.

Cameron, Francona said, will spend much of spring training playing right field. Meanwhile, on days that Crawford has off and when both Ellsbury and Cameron are in the lineup, the Sox skipper said that he was inclined not to move Ellsbury to left field, though he wants to talk to his outfielders before stating that definitively.

In other news of the day:

–A year ago, Red Sox newcomer Dan Wheeler was used primarily to face right-handed hitters based on a career track record of greater effectiveness against hitters from that side of the dish. But the 33-year-old featured spectacular numbers against lefties last year (.154 average, .227 OBP, .436 slugging, .663 OPS, compared to .222/.287/.400/.687 against righties), and so Francona said that the Sox don’t envision using him as a situational right-hander.

“[Wheeler is a] veteran guy who can throw an inning or multiple. Doesn’€™t shy away from big innings. Been through the AL East with Tampa and all that brings. Standup guy, great teammate. I think we’€™re really excited,” Francona said of the acquisition of the right-hander. “[Rays manager Joe Maddon] always matches up, more than most guys, so that could be part of it. But some of that depends on the situation and when you’€™re pitching. If you’€™re down a couple and that guy’€™s pitching, you’€™re probably not going to match up as much as if it’€™s the eighth inning and you have a one-run lead and there’€™s a lefty. But we certainly don’€™t want to pigeonhole him into only facing righties, because he has the ability to get out both.”

Despite pedestrian fastball velocity, Wheeler has 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, something that Francona attributed to his deception on the mound. Francona noted that the right-hander has been a source of frustration to his new teammates, including Dustin Pedroia (0-for-10 against Wheeler).

–Francona said that he did not see John Lackey putting undue pressure on himself to justify his contract. He did allow that the transition to the American League East is challenging because “it’s different, and it is harder” to pitch in a division stacked with ferocious lineups.

He described the veteran as “one of our leaders,” and felt that returning to a clubhouse of familiar faces — rather than being a newcomer — could only stand to help. The same, he suggested, was true of the weight that Lackey shed through cardiovascular activity this winter.

–Pitchers will spend four days getting ready to throw, then have a couple of bullpen sessions and then have two sessions of throwing to hitters before they are ready to pitch in exhibition games.

Alfredo Aceves, who missed much of last year with back and hip injuries and then had surgery on a broken clavicle suffered in Dec., arrived in camp, and told Francona that “he doesn’t feel like he’s behind,” according to the manager. The right-hander will have to leave camp for a brief period to square away his visa, but the absence is expected to be insignificant.

Read More: alfredo aceves, dan wheeler, Jacoby Ellsbury, john lackey
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