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.
"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 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 MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less