Last year at this time, Hansack wasn't even on the radar. The Red Sox had just signed him to a Minor League contract after a two-year absence from professional baseball.
But he had a good year at Double-A Portland, and after the Sea Dogs won the Eastern League championship, Hansack earned himself a promotion to Boston in mid-September. In the 2006 regular-season finale at Fenway, Hansack threw five no-hit innings in a rain-shortened victory over the Orioles.
"Last year, he wasn't even in camp," Francona said. "This year, there's disappointment that he didn't make the club. It's an unbelievable jump. He did a fantastic job this spring. He has a bright future. We tried to make sure he understood that."
Hansack, who hails from Nicaragua, is 29 years old. The Red Sox are convinced he can be a classic, late bloomer.
Does the club project him as a starter or a reliever?
"Either/or," said Francona. "Again, some of it will depend on how his maturity as a pitcher develops, but it may be needed at the Major League level, too."
In five appearances this spring, Hansack posted a 2.08 ERA. He struck out eight batters over his 8 2/3 innings of work.
"It's not fun to tell somebody that and see the disappointment, but he needs to go start," Francona said. "It's probably the right thing to do. I wanted him to get his three innings yesterday. We don't want a kid like that to come here and not pitch. That would hurt his development, [and] we don't need to do that."
The Red Sox made one other roster move on Sunday, assigning righty Mike Burns to Minor League camp. There are 36 players left in big-league camp. Mike Timlin and Matt Clement will both start the season on the disabled list, meaning the Red Sox have nine more cuts ahead of them.
Battle for pitching spots: The battle for the final two roster spots has come down to Kyle Snyder, Manny Delcarmen, Bryan Corey, Javier Lopez and Craig Hansen. Snyder, who has no more options, seems like a front-runner to land one of the spots. The second spot will be short-lived, as Timlin is expected to be activated in time for the home opener on April 10.
Timlin program: As for Timlin, he continues to make progress in his battle back from an oblique strain. The righty threw at a distance of 150 feet on Saturday. Francona said that Timlin will throw off a mound on Monday, and he will repeat that process a few more times before perhaps pitching in a Minor League game by the end of the week.
Starting nine: In a clear sign that Opening Day is drawing near, the Red Sox had their "A" lineup on the field for Sunday's game against the Marlins. It went as follows: Julio Lugo, SS; Kevin Youkilis, 1B; David Ortiz, DH; Manny Ramirez, LF; J.D. Drew, RF; Mike Lowell, 3B; Jason Varitek, C; Coco Crisp, CF; Dustin Pedroia, 2B.
Coming up: Daisuke Matsuzaka again takes his turn on the road with Monday's start at Sarasota, Fla., against the Reds. This marks the fourth time in the last five outings that Matsuzaka has started on the road. The Reds counter with Bobby Livingston. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.