Last year was a different situation. Papelbon was unproven at that point, and the Red Sox would call on him in different situations depending on the need of the team. To Papelbon's credit, he handled the various transitions with aplomb, pitching well in whatever role he was called on. But Francona doesn't plan on abusing the 25-year-old's versatility.
"Last year, out of necessity, he got asked to do some things that weren't fair," Francona said. "Starting early and then coming back in the 'pen. I'm actually pretty comfortable with the way we have it right now."
Papelbon has given up three hits and no runs over his eight outings, going 7-for-7 in save opportunities. Opponents are hitting a miniscule .111 against him.
"I like what we have," Francona said. "He's a huge weapon."
Foulke factor: As for Keith Foulke, Boston's erstwhile closer, Francona has seen some strides from the right-hander, who entered Friday with a 3.86 ERA in eight appearances.
"He's done pretty well, actually," Francona said. "We try to get him enough consistent work and sometimes I get a little stuck. There's been some games where we're down or up, and I want to get him the work because I think it's good for him. At the same time, I like the idea of getting him some work when the game's somewhat on the line, because I think he will probably respond to that better because he's used to pitching in games like that. But it's not always perfect, so we do the best we can."
Foulke has indicated to reporters that his knees still bother him at times.
"It's not stopping him from pitching," Francona said. "The best thing I can say is we'll certainly monitor them every day. I don't think he's close to the point where he doesn't want to pitch."
Will Boomer bounce back? Francona was aware of the conversation David Wells had with reporters on Thursday, in which the left-hander almost seemed despondent at the condition of his right knee. However, the manager isn't giving up on Wells yet.
"I think he's frustrated. I think he thought he was going to feel good coming out of Spring Training, and then it kind of went south," Francona said. "I don't think he was expecting it to do that. But, so again, if you see a quote or something, I think that can be more out of emotion and frustration. Then, all the sudden, you're hopeful you come to the ballpark and that stuff kicks in, and you feel a little bit better and those quotes go away. I can see that happening, too. There's nothing worse than feeling you can't do what you want to do, but that can change."
Mixing it up in center: Before Adam Stern was sent to Pawtucket, Francona had pretty much been going with a lefty-righty platoon in center. Stern started against righties and Dustan Mohr was playing against lefties. Now that left-handed-hitting Willie Harris has been called up to replace Stern, Francona indicated the rotation in center field wouldn't be so clear cut.
"Sometimes it's kind of logical just to have a lefty face a righty and a righty face a lefty," Francona said. "But there are times, like tomorrow, we may not do it. Dustan's got some history against [Roy] Halladay -- 3-for-9 is not exactly [a big sample size], but he has faced him and he's got some hits off of him. This is one of the best guys in the league. We got to take what we can get, and he's been getting lefties out. So we'll see."
Big matchup for DiNardo: Left-hander Lenny DiNardo, who is filling the rotation spot vacated by Wells, will pitch opposite a former Cy Young Award winner for the first time in his young career when he goes up against Halladay on Saturday afternoon.
DiNardo is far more focused on the loaded Toronto lineup he will face than the man who will pitch for the other team.
"I have a game plan against every hitter," said DiNardo. "So does [Jason Varitek]. I'm just going to go out there and pitch aggressively as possible and just use my game. I'm not going to try to go out there and pitch anybody else's game."
Coming up: DiNardo will face off against Halladay in Saturday's 1:07 p.m. ET contest. Halladay is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA. The right-hander has pitched 23 times against the Red Sox in his career, going 7-6 with a 4.46 ERA.