Nipper steps in as Red Sox pitching coach

Updated: February 24, 2006, 5:38 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Boston Red Sox face some key pitching issues this season and Al Nipper will have to put them on the right path as he fills in for the ailing Dave Wallace.

Pitching coach Wallace had surgery on Thursday to clear out a hip infection and could miss the season. Nipper, made Boston's bullpen coach in November, was named interim coach.

The 2004 World Series champion Red Sox, eliminated in the first round of last year's playoffs, are counting on starters Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett along with reliever Keith Foulke to bounce back from health problems for this year's title run.

"It's the health of all our players that everyone's looking at," Nipper told at Boston's spring training camp in Fort Myers, Florida.

"Every team feels like they have a good ballclub but everyone has to stay healthy coming out of camp and that's our main goal for the Red Sox."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Friday he is working closely with Nipper to smooth the transition from his sidekick Wallace with just six days before spring training games start.

"We're staying together in the morning on who's doing what," Francona said. "Wally and I were together for a long time, and I knew what he was going to do before he did it."

"We're not going to do anything different on the field. It's just that we have to establish that trust and relationship that doesn't happen overnight."

Nipper, who pitched for Boston from 1983 to 1987, served as the Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator last year and pitching coach at Class A level the two previous seasons.

"I sat and talked to all of them individually and tried to get an understanding of where they were," Nipper said about his pitchers.

"It'll be constant adjustments but we're going to adjust those workloads and it'll depend on the health of those guys and getting ready for the beginning of the season."

Jonathan Papelbon, who was impressive in a relief role in his major league debut last season and may be groomed as a starter this year, said he was confident in Nipper.

"I think Nip is going to do a fine job," said Papelbon. "I think he's going to take over and there will be no skips, he'll just go right into it."