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To start with: Wells, and a 4-man rotation

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With Opening Day two weeks from today, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the team will start the season with a four-man rotation. That means no Curt Schilling, and David Wells working the opener against his favorite team, the Yankees, with Tim Wakefield on track for the home opener (also against the Yankees) for the first time in his career.

Assuming weather -- or a miraculous comeback by Schilling -- doesn't alter the plans, Wakefield will become the 10th Sox pitcher to start a Fenway Park opener since 1995, the knuckleballer's first season with the Sox.

Schilling, who threw on the side yesterday, is scheduled to pitch two innings in a minor league game tomorrow, which likely would leave him time for just two more starts before the Sox break camp March 31. "I don't doubt that once he gets going, he'll feel good in a hurry," Francona said.

But evidently not good enough to work his way into the rotation when the season starts. With the Sox scheduled for three offdays in the first two weeks, Francona said he will go with a rotation of Wells, Matt Clement, Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo, in that order. "That should get us through April 18," Francona said.

That would take the Sox through the annual Patriots Day matinee and might make April 19, a home game against the Blue Jays, as good a guess as any for Schilling's first appearance.

Clement, who pitched four innings in yesterday's 8-0 loss to the Orioles, giving up three runs in the fourth, will be making his first appearance against the Yankees when he takes the mound April 5.

Wells is 11-7 with one save and a 3.12 ERA against the Yankees, and in his last five starts against the Bombers, dating to Sept. 13, 1999, he has been virtually unhittable: 3-0, with an 0.95 ERA and two complete games. Last season for the Padres, Wells went seven scoreless innings in a game San Diego lost in extra innings.

Francona said a factor in his decision was his desire to have Arroyo make his first start against the Blue Jays in what will be Toronto's home opener April 8. "One of his best games of the year last year was against Toronto," Francona said, referring to the May 15 start in which Arroyo allowed just three hits in eight scoreless innings.

He's in his place
Highly touted prospect Hanley Ramirez, optioned to Double A Portland Friday, will play exclusively at shortstop for the Sea Dogs, Francona said. With Edgar Renteria signed for four years, there has been plenty of speculation that Ramirez eventually will be shifted to another position: center field, third base, or second base. But that is not the plan at this time, Francona said.

Ramirez hit .389 (7 for 18) with two doubles, no home runs, and four RBIs in 13 games, and made just one error.

"Theo [Epstein] and I sat and talked with him for quite a while," Francona said. "We wanted him to understand. We did sing his praises, and I believe in that, but now there's some accountability on his part. Hanley is one of those guys, the bigger the stage, the better he plays. But now he's got a responsibility to go down to Field 4 and play his butt off."

This was the first big league camp for Ramirez, who turned 21 last Dec. 23. "We're not in a position where we have to rush this kid," Francona said. "When he's ready to come here, he'll be ready to play. I'm looking forward to seeing that. He has a chance to be a pretty special player."

Scratched and stiff
Manny Ramirez was scratched from the lineup because of a stiff back, Francona said, but is expected to make the trip today to Bradenton, where the Sox will play the Pirates. David McCarty played in Ramirez's place . . . Trot Nixon, who had been out with the flu, worked out and wanted to play yesterday, Francona said, but was held back until today . . . Lefthander John Halama is scheduled to start today, with Byung Hyun Kim, who missed nearly a week because of the flu, also on the list of pitchers scheduled to go. Kim has thrown 2 2/3 innings so far this spring, hampering the club's efforts to evaluate him -- or find a trade partner . . . Between now and the end of camp, the Sox could be looking for another relief arm or two to strengthen their bullpen depth . . . Clement, who was making his fourth spring start, gave up a couple of hits in the first three innings and stranded a runner on third in the second, but was touched for three runs on a walk, a couple of singles, and a double by Ed Rogers, a spring training invitee. He was charged with the loss, and is 0-2. "That was my first long inning," Clement said. "I threw a lot of pitches, and it took more effort than I wanted it to. But I like the fact I was getting ahead in the count throwing my fastball to both sides of the plate." On facing the Yankees, he said: "It doesn't get any better than that. I'm excited. That's why I came here, to pitch these kinds of games."

Rule him out
Rule 5 outfielder Adam Stern has a very small displaced fracture in his thumb and won't be able to resume playing, Francona said, until at least the end of spring training . . . The Sox had just five hits against four Orioles pitchers, one off starter Daniel Cabrera in five innings, and made three errors, two by right fielder Jay Payton . . . Bill Mueller, who walked and struck out, played five innings yesterday and will stay back in minor league camp the next two days, with the club on the road . . . Johnny Damon remained sidelined with cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection . . . Keith Foulke went three up, three down in an inning of work, and remained unscored upon in his third one-inning appearance . . . Mike Timlin pitched two innings, allowing a run, while lefty Lenny DiNardo was charged with four runs on three hits, two walks, and a wild pitch while failing to retire a batter in the eighth . . . Venerable ex-knuckleballer Charlie Hough spent 45 minutes working with Wakefield in the pen.

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