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03/09/09 10:00 AM EST

Francona talks Sox with MLB.com

Skipper discusses team's health, Classic, shortstop situation

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Terry Francona, who is embarking on his sixth season as manager of the Red Sox, took some time to discuss with MLB.com the state of his team with less than a month to go before Opening Day.

MLB.com: During your time as manager, have you ever, in a Spring Training camp, seen the kind of accumulation of quality arms?

Francona: Not to my knowledge. Again, that is better answered at the end of the year. But the organization has done a great job, I will say that. How that leads to wins, we don't know yet. There are a lot of good arms here, I agree with that.

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MLB.com: What is it like trying to piece together lineups right now, with four of your best hitters at the World Baseball Classic?

Francona: Once you get past the idea that they're gone, it's actually OK. You just go into each game realizing that you're probably accomplishing something different. Then you try to get some satisfaction out of that.

MLB.com Having a chance to be around John Smoltz for the first time, what are you initial impressions of him?

Francona: I haven't been around him that much yet, because he's with the pitchers, and he's doing his thing. But he's very professional. We knew we were going to have to kind of put the clamps on him a little bit. That's OK, we'd rather do that than have to kick him in the [rear]. I think we're going to get paid for our patience.

MLB.com: Are you any more reassured about the overall health of the team than maybe you were coming into camp?

Francona: I kind of think we are where we thought we'd be. Mikey Lowell is starting to creep up on getting in a game. Smoltz is where we thought he would be.

MLB.com: As a manager, how much do you get a kick out of watching guys like Daniel Bard, Lars Anderson and prospects that you've heard a lot about going through their first Major League Spring Training?

Francona: That's probably been the highlight. I enjoy that part of camp. Like last week ... Watching Bard pitch those two innings made it worth showing up. Those were two impressive innings. And you see a kid like Josh Reddick jump over the wall to make a catch, and he also drops a pop fly, and then you'll watch him a year from now and you'll see the progression. I do enjoy that part of it.

MLB.com: Everyone is talking about your pitching, particularly how good it looks on paper. But there seems to be more skepticism about the offense. How do you feel about what you guys are capable of offensively?

Francona: I think that we're better than people realize, at least I hope so. It seems like people are questioning our ability to score runs, and I think we were second last year in the league, and I don't see why there should be a dropoff. Again, that's all part of going out and doing it. But I think when you put our team together -- and we haven't been able to do that yet, and we won't for probably another three weeks -- I like our lineup. We have balance. Health is going to be a key. If J.D. [Drew] and Lowell aren't in there, we're not the same lineup. So hopefully, we can keep them healthy this year.

MLB.com: How much contact do you anticipate having with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and the rest of your players who are at the World Baseball Classic?

Francona: I told those guys to check in with me after they play. They've already all been really good about it. Just let me know you're safe, stay healthy and how many at-bats you had ... just let me know you're OK.

MLB.com: How much do you look forward to the day Daisuke Matsuzaka reports to camp, just so you can get your own eyes on him and see that he's healthy?

Francona: That's probably the thing that makes us more apprehensive than anything. That's not being critical of the World Baseball Classic or of anybody. He's a big innings-eater for us, a big part of our staff. To not have him here and pitching in games of consequence, sure, it makes you nervous.

MLB.com: The shortstop situation with Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie: Do you have a certain time you want to get that resolved by, or is it just kind of open-ended?

Francona: I really don't know. When we know, we will sit down with the players. Until we know, there's no sense in making an arbitrary date.

MLB.com: What kind of overall impact -- if he stays healthy -- can Takashi Saito have on your bullpen?

Francona: You've seen his numbers -- strikeout-to-walk ratio, saves. He gives us another guy in the bullpen that is just solid. It allows you to pitch a guy like Manny Delcarmen earlier in the game if you need him. The trickle-down effect will be amazing.

MLB.com: Because of what he means to your team, how nice is it to see the way Josh Beckett has come into camp after some of the health issues he had throughout last year?

Francona: I think he's a little hungry. I think he felt like he had something to prove, and he looks like he's out to prove it. He looks terrific, and that's good news for us.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.