Francona anxiously waits out WBC

Updated: March 16, 2009, 5:17 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In another week, Terry Francona can exhale. But for now, the Red Sox manager admitted Monday he's sweating out the rest of the World Baseball Classic, hoping his players make it back healthy.

Francona
Francona

The Red Sox have already had one regular -- Dustin Pedroia -- pull out of the WBC with an abdominal injury. So the sight of Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching six innings Sunday made Francona "nervous," he admitted.

"Dice-K pitched a great game yesterday," Francona said before the Red Sox' game Monday with Toronto. "But he also threw six innings. We've had [Josh] Beckett here for a month, and he's up to four. It just makes you nervous. That's all. Not being critical of anybody. It just makes you nervous."

Matsuzaka threw 86 pitches in his start Sunday. He'll throw up to 105 in his next WBC start. Meanwhile, Red Sox starters are barely up to half that many.

Francona has said repeatedly this spring, and said again Monday, that he supports the WBC. But that doesn't mean it's easy for any manager to watch his players head off to play meaningful games a month before they ordinarily would.

"It's hard," he said. "You try to do the right thing. But ultimately, we have to put our organization first. We have to. It's how we make our living. So it's difficult."

Pedroia is one of several players who have been injured during the WBC. Chipper Jones also left Team USA with an oblique strain. And Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom had to leave Sunday's game because of shoulder soreness. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday.

Francona conceded that players can have the same problems during spring training. But he still maintains that's different.

"Oh, sure, guys get hurt here," he said. "[Julio] Lugo got hurt here. The only thing is that we have 60 [players] here, and [if someone is hurting] we can pull a guy out in the third inning. We can not play a guy. There's not 45,000 people screaming [and] they have a ton of adrenalin, maybe before they're ready to do it. That's the thing that probably worries us."

A number of managers have expressed concern this spring about the timing of the event. So Francona isn't alone in his feelings. But when he was asked if he would be less nervous if the WBC was held in July, he replied, succinctly: "No."

"Think about it," he said. "Middle of the year, you're going to have somebody go out there and pitch for somebody else? It's hard. It's just hard. It's a great idea. It's just making it work is difficult. . . . Look at all the rules they have in place. All the stipulations. All the hoops they seem to be making you jump through to make it work."

The Red Sox originally had 15 players in the WBC, tied with the Mets for the most by any organization. They still have five participating -- Matsuzaka (Japan), first baseman Kevin Youkilis (USA), reliever Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico) and pitching prospects Fernando Cabrera (Puerto Rico) and Enrique Gonzalez (Venezuela).

When asked, half-kiddingly, if he was pulling for Matsuzaka's team or Youkilis' team to get eliminated, Francona laughed.

"I never root for them to lose," he said. "But they're all certainly welcome back."

Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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