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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Terry Francona touches base

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Terry Francona enters his seventh season as Boston Red Sox manager, the longest unbroken string by any Sox manager since Joe Cronin had a 13-season run from 1935 to 1947. And Cronin didn't have to deal with the 24-7 news cycle, coast-to-coast travel, cell phones going off in his media sessions, guaranteed multiyear contracts or Manny Ramirez, who could add years to any manager's life (while helping to win a World Series ring or two).

Francona drove to training camp from Boston this go-round, stopping just once en route for a few hours' sleep, and called it a pretty easy ride. He's been around the team's spring-training complex all week, watching some of the 70 or so minor-leaguers who have been working out here on their own dime (they get a little meal money), many since early January, and greeting the early arrivals to big-league camp.

On Wednesday morning, he met with his staff and other club executives, including general manager Theo Epstein, prior to Thursday's official reporting date, and afterward sat down for his first formal give-and-take with reporters.

There were no startling revelations. Other than expanding on Epstein's earlier comments regarding Daisuke Matsuzaka's condition -- Francona said Matsuzaka is experiencing soreness on both sides of his upper back "from something he did at API [Arizona Performance Institute]" -- the most interesting nugget may have come when Francona was asked whether Tim Wakefield could be used out of the bullpen.

"Wake's a starter," Francona said. "We need some time to answer those questions. We can't do that today. We're trying to put a staff together for the whole year. We'll figure all that out. I think rather than try to answer that, I think the best way to go about it is to get guys really healthy and productive, and then if we have to make decisions, we'll gladly do that."

In other words, it's a decision the Red Sox can put off for now while they see if all six prospective starters -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Wakefield -- remain healthy for the entire spring. Already, a caution flag has been raised with Matsuzaka, and it is certainly not out of the question that team medical director Thomas Gill examines the Japanese right-hander during his physical on Friday and applies an even heavier brake to Matsuzaka's preparation.

Francona also addressed the uncertainty surrounding third baseman Mike Lowell, who in his first remarks since his voided trade to Texas, told WEEI.com that his hip remains an issue.

"All I know, I was in a lot of pain and discomfort before the surgery and now it's much less but there's still an issue there,'' said Lowell, adding that he was not taken by surprise by Boston's signing of free agent Adrian Beltre. "There's still bone-on-bone grind that I don't think you can take away."

Francona said he intends to talk to Lowell about taking some ground balls at first base.

"I imagine we'll probably do that, but saying that, I'd like to talk to Mikey face to face," Francona said. "I don't see how it won't be in his best interests, but I'd like to talk to him about it."

Had the Rangers not voided the deal for Lowell after an examination showed that he had torn ligaments in his right thumb, they planned on using Lowell at first base, a position he has not played since four games in Triple-A in 1998, and DH.

Lowell and Wakefield are not expected to participate in initial conditioning drills, Francona said, noting that Lowell is not yet swinging a bat. The news, he said, is more encouraging with infielder Jed Lowrie, who underwent wrist surgery last April that limited him to 32 big-league games. There are "no red flags" that would prevent the 25-year-old from playing this spring, Francona said, which gives Lowrie a chance at competing for a backup spot. The more likely scenario has Lowrie, if healthy, opening the season at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Francona said he is adjusting responsibilities for his coaching staff in the wake of Brad Mills' departure to manage the Houston Astros. New first-base coach Ron Johnson, the long-time manager at Triple-A Pawtucket, will assume some of the outfield instruction done previously by DeMarlo Hale, as Francona said he wants his new bench coach to spend most of his time with him. Nick Bogar, who replaces Hale as third-base coach, will continue to work with the infielders.

Francona said he is looking forward to becoming acquainted with the newcomers, most notably Beltre and new shortstop Marco Scutaro, with whom he said he has spoken little, as well as laying eyes on DH David Ortiz, whose bat will be needed if the Sox intend to avert a significant dropoff in offense, with Jason Bay having signed as a free agent with the Mets.

"By all reports, he's doing great,'' Francona said.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.