Notes: Francona confident in 'pen

Notes: Francona confident in bullpen

PHILADELPHIA -- With the season beginning on Monday in Texas, Red Sox manager Terry Francona feels comfortable with the team he'll have going south with him. A big cause for that attitude is the bullpen depth. Francona expressed confidence in the number of options he has with Rudy Seanez, Mike Timlin, David Riske, Jonathan Papelbon, Lenny DiNardo and closer Keith Foulke.

The key to Boston's season could hinge on the 33-year-old Foulke, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees within nine months in 2005. He finished last season 5-5 with 15 saves and a 5.91 ERA in 43 games.

But the right-hander endured pain almost every time he went out last year, which curtailed his season. He underwent surgery on his left knee on July 7, placing him on the disabled list from July 5 to Sept. 1, missing 50 games. His first appearance after returning was on Sept. 6 against the Angels, and he did not pitch again after Sept. 18.

This spring, Foulke went 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four innings. But the first two runs he gave up this spring came in a 9-5 loss to the Phillies on Saturday.

"I feel fine right now," said Foulke, who posted 32 saves and a 2.17 ERA while playing a big role in Boston's World Series championship in 2004. "The one thing I like most about the spring is that it's over. But you you still need to work on getting back in shape and getting into a groove, which has been my focus. I feel I can still get hitters out on a regular basis. I'll go into this year doing what I've always done, pitching with control, keeping batters off-balance."

Foulke, an eight-year veteran who had three saves and a 0.64 ERA in the 2004 postseason, is doing things differently than he used to.

"Well, for one, I don't run anymore," Foulke said. "Not running puts minimal impact on my knees. There are days when my knees still don't feel as comfortable as I'd like them to, but it hasn't gotten to the point this spring when everything hurt and that bothered me. I feel better, and I've taken some injections to help them out. Time will tell."

Time will tell, and Francona appears willing to wait for the 2004 Foulke to return.

"We didn't want to throw Keith into games until late this spring, and we wanted to make sure his knees were up to it and for Keith to get stronger," Francona said. "That was our concern. I feel good about our bullpen depth. It gives us a chance to win games. Our bullpen has been pretty good this spring, and our starters understand that.

"It makes it a lot easier for them to give up the ball. But I don't think Foulke is a finished product yet. I think his arm strength will be better and that consistency comes with health and innings. If he struggles, or anyone struggles, we have enough people to pick up the slack."

Crisp glove: A striking difference between the 2006 version of the Red Sox and last year's club will be how this team plays defense, said Francona. That key will be center fielder Coco Crisp, who entered Sunday's game against Philadelphia hitting .431 with a .500 on-base percentage and a team-leading 32 total bases.

Acquired in a trade with Cleveland, Crisp has some experience dealing with Fenway Park's asymmetrical center field configuration, but those encounters were brief. Crisp will have a full season to learn how to play the odd bounces off Fenway's center field wall.

"I've been practicing with my baby daughter, who's been throwing a ball all over the walls of the house, and I've been playing the different angles," Crisp said, laughing. "No, but really, we'll work on it by just going out and hitting some balls off the wall in Fenway and learning how to play the bounces from there.

"I have played center in Fenway before, and there are funny dimensions. But I'm a fast learner. You learn how to get reads and make the right reads off the wall. It's just a matter of learning it."

State of the Sox: Francona feels this team is ready to contend again this season. The 2006 season begins Monday, but "I'm still here in Philadelphia and the season still seems far away," Francona said before Sunday's game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

"You go through the normal anxiety and jitters, but I really think we covered everything we were supposed to," he added. "I feel good about the ballclub. I'm viewing this season as a great opportunity for the Red Sox.

"We have tremendous players back and have tremendous additions. We have bullpen depth, and I think we'll have a pretty good offense. We're leaving [Philadelphia] intact. Everyone is healthy and we're ready to go and compete."

Quartet skip trip: Red Sox starters Curt Schilling, David Wells, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield did not travel to Philadelphia and will meet their teammates in Texas when the team arrives on Sunday.

Executive promotions: The Red Sox named Massachusetts native John Blake vice president/media relations and Glenn Geffner vice president/communications on Sunday. The moves were announced by Dr. Charles A. Steinberg, the Red Sox's executive vice president/public affairs.

"Glenn Geffner has worked tirelessly since his arrival three years ago to revamp the media relations department," Steinberg said. "It's time now to give him a senior level partner to share the rigorous load, serve as the media's primary contact, and help develop the department's talented young staff. This change allows Glenn to pursue new areas within the club's communications efforts.

"John Blake has been among the best heads of media relations in baseball for more than 20 years, and I had the privilege of working side by side with him for six years to see first-hand his integrity, intelligence, work ethic, and collaborative spirit. I'm thrilled to be reunited with one of the best in the game."

Blake has spent 26 years as a Major League public relations executive with the Orioles and Rangers. Most recently, he served as director of information for the World Baseball Classic. He currently is the vice president of communications for Ryan-Sanders Baseball, whose principal owner is Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan and which operates the Pacific Coast League's Round Rock Express and Texas League's Corpus Christi Hooks in Texas.

Coming up: The Red Sox will go with Schilling on Opening Day against Texas' Kevin Millwood on Monday at 2:05 p.m. in Arlington, Texas.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.