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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

He has a bat, needs a position

Finding a way to get fourth outfielder Wily Mo Peña 400 or so at-bats is something the Sox decision-makers are chewing on. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Where to put Wily Mo Peña? Right field? Center field? DH? First base? Tight end? Power forward? Bench?

And how to get him 400 at-bats on a team that already has three front-line outfielders, the best DH in baseball, and an everyday first baseman?

Peña is one of the more intriguing players in the Red Sox clubhouse. He's bigger than John Coffey of "The Green Mile" fame and hits longer home runs than anyone who has ever played at Fenway. Folks are still talking about his 498-foot shot in Cincinnati in 2005, and the 451-foot thunderbolt in Kansas City last summer. And let's not forget the heat-seeking missile he hit at Fenway -- the one that hit the back wall of the Monster seats and bounced almost all the way back to the shortstop.

Pena hit 11 homers in 276 at-bats with the Sox last season, when he missed about six weeks after having surgery on his left wrist. He hit 26 homers in 336 at-bats with the Reds in 2004. He has 62 major league home runs and he's 25 years old. Big league pitchers have virtually stopped throwing fastballs to him.

Then there's his defense. His attempts to play the difficult green acres in right field in Fenway have produced some memorable moments, including Opening Day at Fenway last April when he tipped a Frank Catalanotto fly ball into the visitors' bullpen. Keith Foulke didn't hide his disgust. The replay lives forever.

"I don't care if they show that video," Peña said yesterday. "When you do something wrong, people just jump on you. They are going to talk about that. What can I do? The fans were nice to me when I was in Boston and I have to be nice to them back.

"They say I look better in center field. I just have to get better in all three positions because last year I played all three and this year is going to be the same thing. That's why I work with DeMarlo [Hale] on defense. I want to get better in right and left field, but center is more easy for me."

"He's done a great job working at it," said manager Terry Francona. "He stays after every day and works with DeMarlo, and his attitude toward getting better has been awesome. And that's what we want him to do. He overthrew a few cutoff men today, but he knows it."

At 6 feet 3 inches, 245 pounds, Peña is one of the largest men in baseball history to play center field. But he makes for good insurance should Coco Crisp struggle or suffer another injury.

"Wily Mo is our fourth outfielder and hopefully will get a lot of at-bats," said Francona. "But hopefully not too many. That would mean somebody got hurt."

"They've been talking like I'm going to get an opportunity for more at-bats," Peña said. "I'll be happy if I get 400-something at bats. Last year it was the same thing, but I have to be ready whenever they need me."

He says he has a first baseman's mitt, but he didn't bring it to Florida. Not part of the plan.

Favorite home run last year?

"I guess the one in Kansas City [off Luke Hudson Aug. 8]," he said.

How's he handling the curveball diet?

"It doesn't matter what's coming," he said. "I have to be ready."

Peña will be in right field tonight when the Sox kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at City of Palms Park against the Minnesota Twins.

Starting nine
Tonight's Red Sox lineup for the Mayor's Cup opener: Julio Lugo (ss), Kevin Youkilis (1b), David Ortiz (dh), Jason Varitek (c), Mike Lowell (3b), Peña (rf), Dustin Pedroia (2b), David Murphy (lf), Jacoby Ellsbury (cf). Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew will make their first starts tomorrow . . . Righthanded pitcher Adam Bernero is going to Birmingham, Ala., to have his sore elbow checked by Dr. James Andrews . . . Abe Alvarez was excused for a family situation . . . Mike Timlin (back spasms) reported that he was feeling better but "we'll want to test it before I pitch in a game." Francona said, "He's going to need a bullpen first. There's plenty of time for a veteran like him to get ready to pitch." . . . Manny Ramírez hit in a batting cage before the workout. Francona said Ramírez wanted to play in tonight's game but would be held back for three or four days. Ramírez was seen doing an interview with a Japanese reporter . . . Would-be closer Joel Pineiro said, "I pitched to David Ortiz, Wily Mo Peña, and Julio Lugo, and the reaction was good. They said they were glad I was with them now."

Just testing
Reliever Craig Hansen underwent a precautionary MRI on his back, and Francona said there was nothing alarming about the result . . . Red Sox players were lectured earlier this week by Major League Baseball officials regarding attempts to speed up games. One new rule states that a manager may not come out of the dugout for an explanation from umpires after a warning has been issued to a pitcher. "I don't understand that rule," said Francona . . . Local favorite Zak Farkes is competing for a job as a minor league catcher. Farkes was a home run king in his Harvard days before signing with the Red Sox two years ago. He was an Ivy League infielder and still plays third base, but he hopes to make it to the bigs as a catcher. He went back to Harvard to get his degree last year.

Moving day
Yesterday was the Sox' final day at the minor league complex at the dead end of Edison Road. Equipment czars Joe Cochran and Tommy McLaughlin were busy packing up and making room for the 200 minor leaguers who'll invade when the big leaguers leave. Traveling secretary Jack McCormick was handing out parking passes for ballplayers at City of Palms Park . . . A reporter from the New Yorker is in Fort Myers working on a profile of Ramírez . . . Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was back at camp after being away for a few days on personal business. CEO Larry Lucchino also was on hand. Lucchino and owners John Henry and Tom Werner will be in Utah this weekend for the wedding of Werner's daughter . . . Youkilis and Mike Andrews announced the second annual Red Sox Rally Against Cancer, which will be held April 10 when the Sox play their home opener against the Seattle Mariners. For information, visit jimmyfund.org/rally or call 617-632-5420 .

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