Consider that Penny -- who will try to pitch the Sox to a three-game sweep of the Braves on Sunday -- has given up just three earned runs or fewer in eight of his past 10 starts.
"He's gotten us into the sixth pretty regularly," said Francona. "Now, his stuff is getting better, too. His stuff is more powerful. He's getting power without effort. He's never going to be like Don Sutton, touch and feel. But you know what I'm saying. He's getting it up there pretty good. He's starting to locate, he's starting to throw it downhill. I think he feels good about himself."
Penny, not a big talker in his dealings with the media, expresses quiet confidence.
"Pretty much every game, I've felt great with no pain, so hopefully it keeps going," said Penny. "It's definitely a lot more fun then last year."
Penny was never really healthy last year, going 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA in 19 games (17 starts) for the Dodgers.
But that downturn is what enabled the Red Sox to sign Penny for a reasonable $5 million over one year.
Though Francona now admits to not paying much attention to the recent trade rumors surrounding Penny, he also said he never bought into them.
"I didn't pay much attention, because I knew where we were," Francona said. "We didn't sign him to trade him. We signed him to win. He's worked hard. I think it's going to only continue to get better."
As for the Red Sox, they are on a roll. With Saturday's 1-0 win, the Red Sox clinched their sixth straight series victory and have an 18-6 record since May 31.
BOS: RHP Brad Penny (6-2, 4.93 ERA)
Penny had mixed results in his previous start, a no-decision against the Nationals. Over 5 2/3 innings, he allowed six hits and three earned runs, walking three and striking out six. Penny has been effective in June, going 1-1 with a 3.22 ERA in four starts. In seven road starts this season, Penny is 2-1 with a 5.21 ERA. This will be Penny's 11th career appearance at Turner Field, where he is 2-2 with a 5.30 ERA. Lifetime against the Braves, Penny is 8-4 with a 5.13 ERA.
ATL: RHP Tommy Hanson (3-0, 3.13 ERA)
Hanson pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on Tuesday, but he may not get a chance to try his hand against the Red Sox on Sunday. The big right-hander is battling the flu and wasn't at Turner Field for Saturday's game. If he's unable to go, his good friend and roommate, Kris Medlen, will get the start, despite throwing 61 pitches combined on Wednesday and Thursday in relief. It would be Medlen's fourth career start, as he occupied the fifth spot in the rotation until Hanson was called up.
The Red Sox have won 12 of their past 15 Interleague series. ... Closer Jonathan Papelbon is one save away from Bob Stanley's team record of 132. However, Papelbon might not pitch on Sunday after being used in the first two games of the series. ... Third baseman Mike Lowell, who will get an injection for his ailing right hip on Monday, won't start on Sunday.
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Official game notes
WRKO 680, SBN 1150 (Español)
Monday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 6-6, 4.68) at Orioles (Jason Berken, 1-4, 6.32), 7:05 p.m. ET
Tuesday: Red Sox (John Smoltz, 0-1, 9.00) at Orioles (Rich Hill, 3-2, 6.03), 7:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 9-3, 3.48) at Orioles (TBD), 1:35 p.m. ET