Commentary

Terry Francona to do some juggling

Updated: June 23, 2011, 10:31 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It's no secret that the Boston Red Sox are not big fans of interleague play, especially when playing in a National League park.

Even though the Red Sox have had success against NL clubs, compiling a 145-111 record since interleague play began in 1997 for the fourth-best mark in the majors. In fact, Boston leads the big leagues with a 100-53 record since 2003, and the Red Sox have won 21 of their past 27 interleague series, beginning in 2007.

[+] EnlargeTerry Francona
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesTerry Francona's lineup dilemma would be gone if the NL adopted the designated hitter.

So why do players such as Kevin Youkilis and manager Terry Francona say they're not big fans of interleague play?

Simple: The Red Sox are built a certain way and this type of schedule is not conducive to their roster.

Sure, there are times when the interleague schedule works to a team's advantage, but that's not always the case.

"Sometimes you catch a break, sometimes you don't," Francona said. "Every manager, I bet, would be saying the same thing. You want to be judged on an even schedule. Our division is tough enough as it is.

"We all have opinions and we would love to see a more balanced [schedule]. Then, if you win or you lose, you're playing the same teams or the same strength of schedule."

Francona also admitted, somewhat surprisingly, that he would like to see the designated hitter used in both leagues.

"Yeah, I like the DH. I'm a little surprised I said that, but just watching games, and I think it creates jobs for players, but I think the game is actually more fun," he said. "So many times pitchers go out there, and that's when people go and get popcorn. I understand there's some so-called strategy, but having the DH is better because it makes the game more fun."

The Red Sox are 5-4 this season in interleague play, winning two of three against the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, but dropping two of three to the San Diego Padres.

The interleague schedule presents some challenges for Francona.

There's no way you want to take David Ortiz's bat out of the lineup, but in games at NL parks there is no DH. Believe it or not, Ortiz is very good defensively but he can only play first base, which means slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has to play elsewhere to utilize both big bats.

Francona recently spoke with Gonzalez, and both agreed playing the outfield during the upcoming schedule would be a strong possibility. Gonzalez has done it in the past, but only for two games while he was playing for the Texas Rangers in 2005. He also played outfield in winter ball.

"I've thought about it," Francona said. "Is it viable? To be really honest, we're going to wait until [after Thursday's off day] and we'll look at some of the matchups."

Gonzalez has been taking fungoes in the outfield and told Francona that he's willing to play there. Francona said he doesn't want Ortiz to go 11 days without playing.

"That's not good for us or for him," Francona explained. "If you put [Gonzalez] in right, that's the one place he says he can play, then you're potentially either taking J.D. [Drew] out of the lineup or moving him to left. I mean, we could have guys all over the place. And the other thing, if something ever happened to [Gonzalez], we would catch a lot of [grief] and I don't really want to do that. So we'll see."

Gonzalez is in the midst of an offensive tear, and the last thing Francona wants to do is mess with that, but he might not have much choice during the next nine games.

"I actually have some anxiety over this one and I want to do what's right," he said.

"If we play that team, it's not our best defensive team. But we have pretty good offensive players and we can certainly shift them around if we have the lead. But there's more to it. If we don't play David for 11 days, that's going to kill him and I don't want to do that, so there are some things to think about."

Another challenge for Francona is how much time does he have his starting pitchers spend on batting practice.The past few seasons he's changed his mentality a little, sometimes having them hit more prior to the start of the interleague schedule and sometimes having them hit less.

Boston's rotation has suffered some injuries the past few seasons in the batter's box and on the base paths, including Tim Wakefield (back) and Clay Buchholz (hamstring). The last thing the Sox need right now is another injury to a starting pitcher.

"What we've done is spread it out more," Francona explained. "We start out real slow and earlier. We hit off the tee and take dry swings off the tee. The progression is real slow because we don't want somebody to get hurt.

"You try to balance it. We want them to try to get bunts down, especially with guys in scoring position we would like for them to try to get a hit. Some of these guys are actually OK, but the biggest thing is not to get hurt."

But Francona doesn't want his pitchers to give away at-bats and would like to see them try to work the count.

Speaking of the starting rotation, Francona was forced to tweak his rotation because of Josh Beckett's illness. The right-hander will miss his scheduled start on Saturday, leaving Jon Lester to face the Pirates on Friday, Wakefield filling in on Saturday and Andrew Miller going Sunday.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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