Terry Francona Says ‘We’re a Different Team’ With Adrian Gonzalez In Middle of Lineup

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As the man above him works to fill out the Red Sox’ roster, manager Terry Francona is preparing for how he will utilize said roster.

That involves monitoring the progress of the injured and recovering players, plus getting together with new pitching coach Curt Young to discuss the club’s ever-present need to have improved pitching in 2011. It also means getting to know the club’s newest member.

“I was trying to round his number up I guess yesterday, and he called me, which you don’t see that very often either,” Francona said of Adrian Gonzalez, who officially became the skipper’s starting first baseman Monday. “And we talked for about 10 minutes and I just told him to make himself comfortable and gave him my number, told him I’d be talking to him and just relax.”

Francona certainly looked relaxed himself while meeting with reporters Tuesday at the winter meetings. He was asked questions concerning roughly half the roster. Here are some of the highlights:

  • On Gonzalez’s immediate impact: “You know what, it’s amazing how one hitter can really make you feel, not just feel, but look different. I mean, you stick him in the middle of the order, whether he’s hitting third, fourth, wherever, we’re a lot different team.”
  • Building off the constant theme of this offseason for the Red Sox, and seemingly every other team out there, Francona did indicate that he has talked with general manager Theo Epstein about how to make the bullpen better. Last season was not an easy one due mostly to the lack of relief. “We know we need to make our bullpen deeper,” Francona said. “I don’t know if that means it has to be next. I think Theo’s been pretty open about maybe looking at right‑hand hitting outfield bat, if it works. … But I think the bullpen is important. We probably lost some games there last year that hurt us. That’s a hard way to lose games, especially when you want to be a good team.”
  • Kevin Youkilis made the Gonzalez trade possible, in a way, with his versatility. That was not lost on Francona: “I don’t know how many first basemen can just pick up a glove and go over and play third and probably do it fairly seamlessly,” he said.
  • Francona was asked in multiple ways about some of the rotations in the outfield, as it is currently constituted. Issues include whether he needs to find someone to fill in for J.D. Drew when tough lefties are on the mound, and what to do with Mike Cameron. On the latter of the two: “From all accounts, he’s working hard and he’s doing really well. So, I guess I can see Cam playing every day. Who knows?” On the former: “I think what we’d rather do is have J.D. have a little more success against left‑handers. Maybe drop him down the lineup as opposed to not playing him. I think that’s probably a better way to do it. There are certainly certain left‑handers that you’re doing him a favor by giving him the day off. But I don’t think you want to have a platoon out there. That seems like a little bit much.”
  • One of the more intriguing comments came when Francona was asked about Jed Lowrie. The manager said he sees Lowrie as a “super utility guy” who can play all four infield spots and switch hit, potentially providing a ton of value. Francona did acknowledge that Lowrie may have his eyes on other things, given the way he finished 2010 on such a hot streak: “That may not be his ultimate goal, and I respect that. But as far as our team goes, that would be a really nice fit.”
  • Francona said he expects every one of the injured players to be fine by spring training, with the exception of Gonzalez, who may not swing a bat until March rolls around. Jacoby Ellsbury, however, is still “feeling it in the back a little bit,” according to Francona, who hopes that one day he won’t have to provide that update anymore. “I think we’re all going to take a deep breath when we see him out there running and not feeling it, but we’re certainly far enough away from spring training where that shouldn’t be an issue.”
  • The catching situation pleases Francona. He said that Jason Varitek will “play more than probably the average back‑up catcher” and that the balance of playing time with Jarrod Saltalamacchia will depend on both players’ production and health. As for Salty, Francona acknowledged some risk in handing him the keys, but added this: “If Salty doesn’t hit right away, that’s not the end of the world. But when he catches, we always know that every time he caught, the pitcher got deep into the game. He had that babysitting mentality where he wanted to take care of the starting pitcher. … If it clicks, all of a sudden you’ve got a switch-hitting catcher with power. So there is a lot to like.”
  • There were a few questions on new pitching coach Curt Young. Francona said that Young has been in touch often but with the magic of technology, which can allow for video of pitchers to be e-mailed and plenty of communication, they have been active in discussion only from afar. His talks with John Farrell have been reduced because “he’s busy” and “since [Farrell’s Blue Jays are] in our division, I don’t see him giving us a lot of input on our staff.”
  • On Felix Doubront and his role in 2011: “He obviously has the ability to start maybe in the near future, maybe the way our team sets up, maybe he’s in the bullpen. Whether it’s for a year and then transitions into a starting role, I don’t think there would be anything we’d do that would throw him or knock him back.”
  • Finally, the conversation trickled back to Gonzalez, at which point Francona had this to say about the first baseman hitting in Fenway: “Yeah, he’s going to be good regardless, but his swing does match up with Fenway. So his strengths will certainly play up at Fenway. I think that will be fun to watch.”
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