Sox woes challenge Francona

Posted May 04, 2010, at 11:22 p.m.

This is a different year for Terry Francona. The Red Sox manager faces decisions on a daily basis about the lineup and the bullpen. Life day-to-day is fluid with these Red Sox.

Until injured players Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury return, that is not going to change. Francona must continue to piece together the wins.

Even when they return, the Sox have to hope that the Cameron decision will work. He has not played enough yet to know if the move of Ellsbury to left and Cameron to center was the answer to the loss of Jason Bay.

Tampa Bay is off to the best start in franchise history, so the scoreboard-watching starts early. There is no time to make up games in the AL East, so the daily decisions have to result in enough wins to keep the margin close.

For David Ortiz, says Francona, “It has been a struggle.”

Wanting to use him against righthanders has not worked particularly well, especially when his average against lefthanders has been marginally better and not especially good against either.

Jason Varitek is a making a case to get more playing time, his bat has been hot and the pitchers have always liked working with him.

Again, Francona has to manage this, since there is no way Varitek can be the daily workhorse behind the plate.

What this all adds up to is what Francona has always called “playing for the team.”

He has consistently preached that his decisions are about the team winning and that his players’ responses and actions should be headed in the same direction.

When the lineup and pen were set, everyone understood their job and if you didn’t, you weren’t going to be around long.

Now Francona must keep an ear to the ground. Varitek wants to play and he is part of the heart and soul of the Sox for the past decade.

Lowell must wonder daily if he will remain on the team, will platoon as a DH, will play at third or be a guy off the bench. For now it is all of the above and he must accept that for the Sox to be internally strong.

Victor Martinez came to be the daily catcher and earned the job last year. Is there an issue this year about that because of Varitek’s bat and position with the team?

Ortiz and Francona have heard the murmurings that it is time for Ortiz to go. Just when you think that might happen, along comes a home run off his bat, and he lives to hit another day.

Through all of this Francona must measure each public word to keep the good ship Red Sox on course.

Last week GM Theo Epstein told writer Murray Chass that he sees a “team malaise” during the first month of the season. Francona reads that, too.

The Sox manager has been a magician in managing numerous stars on the same team with a fan base that idolizes them.

Losing requires a greater degree of magic and all eyes are on Francona. As we finished talking this week, I said to him, “I’m glad those are your problems.”

He turned back and said, “That’s what everyone says.”

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