Francona’s Staff Management Playing Crucial Role Down the Stretch

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With the Red Sox fresh off a sweep of the Blue Jays after taking three of four from the visiting White Sox, manager Terry Francona has to be pleased with the performance of his pitching staff.

Although rehabbing Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka got roughed up at Double-A Portland, 25-year old Clay Buchholz threw 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Saturday against the Blue Jays. In addition to that, repeat newcomer Paul Byrd shut out the Jays on Sunday, and the bullpen managed to save another shaky start from Josh Beckett on Friday.

Even without Beckett's usual dominance, Boston’s pitchers are performing well down the stretch and making life a little less stressful on Francona. Adding Billy Wagner to the bullpen may even help keep All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon rested.

Despite leading the Red Sox to two World Series titles in the past five years, Francona has the tough job of managing the Sox staff. While he can rely on captain Jason Varitek as the field general for his ever-changing stable of pitchers, Francona is responsible for setting the matchups, and blame lands squarely on his shoulders when things don't go according to plan.

During his tenure in Boston, Francona has had to manage some strong personalities, including Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Papelbon. But he's also been blessed with some talented prospects who've become an important part of the staff. Two of them — Jon Lester and Buchholz — have even thrown no-hitters.

So while credit for the staff's performance often goes to Varitek or pitching coach John Farrell, Francona's influence and feel for his staff should not be overlooked. Heading into the last crucial weeks of the season, he should be satisfied with what he sees from his pitchers.

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