FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What could a seemingly routine exercise -- throwing batting practice to a group of Minor League hitters at 11 a.m. ET on Monday -- possibly mean to Brad Penny, a two-time All-Star?

Come to think of it, quite a bit.

"Today, for me, answered a lot of questions for me mentally and physically," said Penny. "I really didn't know what to expect going out there for the first time, but everything felt great."

Monday marked not just the first time Penny has thrown to hitters this spring, but the first time since his ill-fated, injury-plagued 2008 season came to a crashing halt on Sept. 15 against the Pirates.

In the months that have passed, Penny has rebuilt the strength in his meal ticket of a right shoulder bit by bit, but it's still a work in progress.

"It's been a while since I've been out there to face hitters," Penny said. "Command wasn't where I normally am, but it wasn't bad. I felt like I had ride on my fastball and I was getting good rotation on the breaking ball. The splitty was a little erratic, but that will come later in the spring."

There's time. But also no rush. The Red Sox fully expect Penny to be in the rotation at the start of the season, but they have no motivation to rush him through Spring Training.

In fact, Penny and ace closer Jonathan Papelbon were the last Boston pitchers -- aside from the rehabbing John Smoltz -- to face hitters this spring, both doing so in their back-to-back sessions on Field 3 on Monday morning.

"It was nice to see them get on the mound," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "They've been probably two turns behind everyone else. Now they'll come back on Thursday and face hitters again over at the stadium. We'll do it on the back field. That will get them in line to throw in a game."

Papelbon is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut on March 3, with Penny to follow two days later.

"With Pap, with it being a long spring, I don't know that we need to speed him up that much," said Francona. "With Penny, [it will be] a little bit slower progression. I think the destination is the same, just getting there has been a little different. We went every third day with him, as opposed to every second day, just to give him another day to recover before he throws, because it's a long year. Again, looking at the larger picture, I think it makes sense."

When Penny makes his first exhibition start, it will be another test for where he is at physically. And the same goes for his first start of the regular season and all those after that. For Penny knows that this is not going to be a normal year for him. He will spend the season balancing between pitching and maintaining his new strength program.

"The schedule I'm on, if it was up to me, I'd want to go out there every single day. This will give me more time to strengthen my shoulder to where it should have been."
-- Brad Penny

"It's still early in spring. I think the test will be all year," Penny said. "I don't think it's going to be, 'OK, now I'm fine.' I think I've got to stay on this program and keep working and do all I have to do to stay out there."

If Penny can keep his turn in the rotation, the Red Sox feel that they'll have one of the free-agent finds of the winter.

"Just look at his track record," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "He's got the ability for mid-teens wins. We're not certainly putting a number on that. He's a guy that, in the past, has been a solid middle-of-the-rotation to No. 2-type starter. But we know that he's got some individual needs that we've got to monitor. We'll increase his workload accordingly, provided he continues to show that there's no need for additional days down."

Penny understands the conservative program the Red Sox have set out for him, but that doesn't mean that he sometimes has to resist the urge to do more.

"I feel 100 percent," Penny said. "The schedule I'm on, if it was up to me, I'd want to go out there every single day. This will give me more time to strengthen my shoulder to where it should have been."

There were some recent verbal barbs tossed through the media between Penny and Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa. After Penny said that Bowa and some others created an uptight atmosphere in Los Angeles' clubhouse, Bowa suggested Penny wasn't a hard worker or a particularly good teammate.

However, the Red Sox have seen no red flags with the righty.

"I have really no reaction to what feedback is coming from the Dodgers," Farrell said. "What we have to base our judgment on is what he shows day in and day out. I would tell you right now, we've given him some direction with some certain exercises and certain intensity on things, and he's responded very well. I think he sees a group of pitchers around him that work extremely hard. They are very disciplined in their approach. That's the norm here. There have been no issues as far as him fitting in and matching the intensity the other pitchers are showing around him."

Penny had no comment when asked about Bowa's remarks. His sole focus at the moment is trying to become one of baseball's best rebound stories of 2009.

What does he envision for this season?

"I hope good things. I can't see the future," said Penny. "But I'm going to try to stay healthy, work my butt off, go out there every fifth day and see what I can do."