10/03/07 7:40 PM ET
Notes: Lineup back in order
Back to full health, Francona puts players in usual slots
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
It was the first time since Aug. 28 that Francona had his batting order stacked exactly the way he likes it.
Dustin Pedroia led off, followed by Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo.
Though Ramirez and Youkilis had re-entered the mix over the final week of the season, neither had reached the point where Francona felt comfortable hitting them in their usual batting slots.
That point started Wednesday, along with the postseason.
"It's kind of the lineup we've been shooting for for a while and haven't been able to get to," said Francona. "We tried to get to a point where today we would have our lineup and pitching staff in order. It doesn't mean you win, it doesn't mean you lose. But it means we send out the team the way we envisioned it and let them go play."
Ramirez had been batting second down the stretch so that Francona could maximize the number of at-bats for the left fielder, who missed 24 games with a strained left oblique.
Though Ramirez didn't go deep in the six games after his return, Francona had no reservations about putting the star slugger back in the four-hole behind Ortiz.
"It's not perfect," Francona said. "He played parts of six games. I don't think we have any reservations about hitting him cleanup. You can't tell ahead of time how a guy is going to hit anybody. I don't think what has happened in the past should play a big part in this series."
As for Youkilis, who launched a solo home run into the Monster Seats in the first inning, he is battling back from a severe bruise in his right wrist caused when Chien-Ming Wang hit him on Sept. 15.
"I think he's ready. I don't think he's perfect," Francona said. "Youk took some pretty good swings the other day, he took some good swings in BP. Hitting is so crazy. It can be the guy that's 0-for-30 and he comes out and gets that first hit and feels good. Hitting is a little different. I don't think this is going to get in the way of Youk being whatever kind of player he can be."
Wakefield will stay at it: Three days after receiving a cortisone shot for an injury that Francona described as in "the back of the shoulder," Wakefield wasn't rushing back into things. Now that he's not on Boston's ALDS roster, the Red Sox can be more conservative with his program, with the idea of getting him ready to pitch in the AL Championship Series if they advance that far.
"He went out and made like 10 throws yesterday and didn't feel very good," Francona said. "So rather than speed up and try to throw a bullpen [session] today, he'll go out and try to play catch. We can slow this down a little bit now and stay strong. We went through this back a ways, same type of thing, and he went and threw a bullpen, and that was a game he got hit around a little bit and didn't feel real good. We'll try to slow it down and get him going again."
Wakefield has had two cortisone shots in the last month. What exactly is the injury?
"It's actually in the back of his shoulder," Francona said. "Sometimes during the year, I don't feel the need to expound on things that put ourselves in not the best position to succeed. You could call it a shoulder, you can call it a back, we've been calling it [a] back [injury] the whole time. I don't know if that's important. It's been bothering him for a while."
Lining up the bullpen: The 1-2 setup tandem of Hideki Okajima and Eric Gagne both had trouble with health and ineffectiveness during the final month of the season. However, Francona seemed comfortable with the bullpen entering the playoffs.
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"I thought [Gagne's] last five outings were pretty good," said Francona. "Oki pitched twice. If I had my druthers, Gagne would have never given up a run and Oki would have never needed the down time. But that's the way the game is and you do the best you can. We'll continue to do the best we can. There were times we stayed with Gagne when I know it was not the popular thing to do. I thought it was the best way to solve, if not some of our problems, [at least] figure out the best way to go forward."
Not only have Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen been highly effective in setup roles of late, but Francona also has more of an ability to stretch out dominant closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"Pap obviously becomes a better option or a quicker option in a five-game series with days off," said Francona.
Confidence in Pedroia: While a manager can sometimes be leery of having a rookie in his starting lineup during October, Francona has no such reservations with Pedroia. Part of it is Pedroia's confident personality. Another is the way he's played all year long on both sides of the ball.
"He came in today and got [beat] in cribbage. That's normal," quipped Francona. "But he's always keyed up. I think he's OK. I've heard him talking today, and he said, 'I've never been through this.' I actually kind of respect him saying that. He hasn't. He's a good player. If we need to pull him aside and tell him something, we always do anyway. I'm not too worried about him."
Lester stretched out: Though left-hander Jon Lester hardly has any experience as a reliever, Francona said that he had no reservations giving him that role for the Division Series once it became clear Wakefield wouldn't be on the roster.
"He's been throwing the ball great, and if we get in the situation where something happens early, he's stretched out," Francona said. "If we get in the position where we want to use everybody to try to win the game and we're tied, he the one that's stretched out."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.