John Lackey is the No. 2, followed by Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett (whose drop to No. 4 could be considered the lone surprise) and Daisuke Matsuzaka. If the schedule remains intact, Lackey would pitch the Red Sox's home opener on April 8 against the Yankees.
"We feel like Lack has a way of matching up with whoever he's pitching against, whether it's a No. 1 or No. 5," Francona said Thursday morning at City of Palms Park.
"You look up in the seventh and you have a chance to win, which we really like. Buch did so good, I think we feel like having Buch come out third just enhances our chance to win a little bit. Buch's numbers would say that he could pitch anywhere.
"Ultimately, if they pitch like they should, it's not going to matter. And if they don't pitch like they should, it's not going to matter."
2010 Spring Training - null
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If the Red Sox wanted, they could skip Matsuzaka's first start of the season and have Lester go on regular rest because of an off-day on April 4, after their opening three-game series in Texas. Boston heads to Cleveland for a three-game series afterward. Francona didn't indicate Thursday he wanted to go in that direction, though.
As for Beckett, few would've batted an eye if he'd been named the No. 2. Francona said Beckett's in the fourth spot because he feels better about Beckett pitching against the Indians than the American League champion Rangers.
"Just watching the way last year unfolded, we want to get him off to a good start," Francona said. "We'll pitch him that game in Cleveland. I think that's a good place for him to start."
Beckett's struggled this spring: despite nine strikeouts, he's also let up seven runs and two homers in 9 2/3 innings. He suffered a mild concussion at the end of February when a stray ball hit him, but that minor setback, Francona said, didn't play into the decision to push him toward the back of the rotation.
Even if that were Francona's thinking, Beckett feels the extra time before making his first regular-season start would not be of any tangible benefit.
"I don't know. I don't think it gets me any extra innings or any extra bullpen [sessions] or anything like that," Beckett said. "I don't know that the extra days really help."
In talking on Thursday about how happy he was for Lester, Beckett called the Opening Day start "a sacred thing." He said he supported Francona's decision to drop him to No. 4 because Francona supports him, but he never said he agreed with it.
"Those are his decisions, and just like I would feel like he would always back me up, I back him up on his decisions as well," Beckett said. "It is what it is. I don't get paid to make those decisions. Tito makes those decisions. I don't want that job. I'll never want that job."
Francona said he's had the rotation set in his mind for some time, but he wanted to inform all his pitchers first. Beckett said he found out Wednesday. The last to know was Matsuzaka, to whom Francona said he spoke with Thursday morning.
"I just wanted guys to know before I tell you guys. I think that's just respectful," Francona said. "I don't want them to read in the paper where they're starting."
As for Tim Wakefield, who's always taken whatever role he has been asked to fill, Francona said only, "Wake knows his job right now."
That means relieving and spot starts when needed.