Francona on ace, sluggers, and more

Red Sox manager Terry Francona offered several interesting tidbits of information during an interview with the “Dale and Holley Show” on sports radio WEEI this afternoon — not the least of which was the revelation that he got the second hole-in-one of his life during his “annual” golfing outing yesterday.

“I like to think that bodes well for the rest of the year,” he said, noting that Josh Beckett and Brad Mills were among the witnesses.

As for the best of his baseball-related insights:

  • Francona said he hasn’t seen David Ortiz since before Christmas, but that the reports on the slugger’s health and conditioning are “really good.” “Some guys have laid some eyes on him in the Dominican, and he looks tremendous,” Francona said. “I’m excited to see David because that would be great news for us.” Concerning the health of Mike Lowell, another important player who endured injuries last season, Francona said the third baseman will be on “a little bit of a slower program at the beginning of camp. I don’t think that’s earth-shattering. Again, the idea is to get him ready for Opening Day. That’s a pretty legit timetable. It doesn’t have to be that day or the day before. The idea is to get him back, and once he’s back, getting playing consistently like he can, so I don’t like to put an artificial date on it.” He also noted that he tried to keep the lines of communication open with Lowell as the Red Sox were pursuing Mark Teixeira. “I think he’ll be fine,” Francona said.
  • He said the Red Sox — particularly pitching coach John Farrell — have been in frequent contact with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is not in camp as he is training to pitch for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, and that the club is comfortable with his regimen. “There’s nothing going on that we don’t know about,” Francona said. “There’s as much comfort level as you can have when a guy’s 6,000 miles away.”
  • Francona didn’t sound like he would be endorsing the new authorized book about former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez — “Becoming Manny” — anytime soon. Ramirez reportedly says he felt betrayed by the organization and some of his former teammates in the book. “I was asked last night about it and I saw some excerpts,” Francona said. “In what little I did see, it sounded like [it shouldn’t have been] in the non-fiction area of Barnes & Noble. My recollection of some of that isn’t anywhere close [to his]. And that’s disappointing.” Francona said the organization makes a conscious effort to look out for its players. “And I think it was obvious over the years we bent over backwards to be fair not just with Manny, but with all of our players,” he said, “while at the same time having them understand that they need to be accountable for their actions . . . I don’t apologize for anything that happened. I thought we did the best we could.”
  • Francona said he’s fully rejuvenated after an exhausting 2008 season that ended with a Game 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series. “When the season’s over, you’re just out of gas,” Francona said. “And it probably takes me a little bit longer each year to get that feeling of coming back and the excitement. But once you do, it’s unbelievable. You see guys you haven’t seen in a long time, you get back in that flow of wanting to get on the field. Tomorrow’s the first day we’ll put our uniform on. It is an exciting day.” He joked that he wishes he could find a way to keep that feeling through August and September.
  • Regarding the revelation that Yankees star Alex Rodriguez had used performance-enhancing drugs in the past, Francona said he didn’t have enough information on the specific circumstances to feel comfortable commenting. But he did share his perspective on the big-picture impact of steroids on the sport. “Obviously I care about the game — and a lot,” he said. “And we just don’t know enough about it, and maybe we never will, who knows. I don’t know that everybody is ever going to know everything about everybody. There’s a lot of ambiguity. I hope it doesn’t hurt the game. That’s not a very good answer, but I don’t know that there is a good answer out there. And that’s a shame.” Francona added that if he knew of a player using steroids or heard rumors, he would feel a responsibility morally to say something to him. “I think everybody can take some guilt on this subject,” he said. “And probably wear it just about equally.”
  • Francona said that one of the differences in this year’s camp is that the Red Sox have invited more of their younger players and top prospects than they have in the past. “The Lars Andersons of the world, the Daniel Bards,” Francona said. “Kids that aren’t on the roster yet, but we’re bringing them in to take up some of the innings that [went] in the past [to] some of the veteran minor league players.”
  • He said it will be “interesting” to watch how the shortstop battle between Jed Lowrie and Julio Lugo plays out, and also referenced the bullpen and the health and depth of the pitching staff as situations to keep an eye on this spring.
  • He said he’s surprised so many high-quality players remain on the free-agent market, and said he feels “a little bit prophetic” after telling bench coach Brad Mills that players would start signing soon. (Adam Dunn went to the Nationals and Bobby Abreu to the Angels yesterday.) “The guys like Teixeira usually get their money, but it’s the middle-of-the-road guys that take the hit [in a bad economy],” Francona said. “There’s gonna be some teams that get some bargains, no doubt. Bobby Abreu’s still a really good player.”
  • Francona said he’s glad Jason Varitek returned to the Sox. “Sometimes the business side drags out a little bit, and thankfully I don’t have to be a big part of that business. But to have him back is great. It certainly makes our job a lot easier, and there are a lot pitchers that are probably thrilled that he’s back. And again, I don’t think he has to hit .300 for us to be successful. But I do think that there’s going to be somewhat of a bounce-back year. But regardless, I think we’ve proven that if he doesn’t hit, we can win, and if he does hit, that makes us a little bit of a special team.”
  • He was noncommittal on who will catch Tim Wakefield. “We certainly need to try to make those kind of decisions, but I don’t know that we’ve made them yet. We’ve got seven weeks to kind of let that filter out.”

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