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Belichick enjoys his time on new turf

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He sat beside Terry Francona in the Red Sox dugout, wearing shorts, not a hoodie.

And when Bill Belichick wasn't there, Scott Pioli, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel, slid onto the bench occupied earlier this week by Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC anchorman.

Can anyone tell it's spring training?

"It was fun," Francona said of his time visiting with the coach of the Patriots, who just a couple of days earlier dropped in on Joe Torre and the Yankees as he makes the rounds of a few camps.

"We talked about the culture of the game, which is interesting. Just the different culture. They're 16 games. We're every day. We talked about sending guys down, cuts, that type of stuff. It was interesting. Spring training is relaxed, and he's relaxed. It was fun. He came and sat for about three innings and we BS'd around."

Francona said this was the first time he'd spoken at any length with Belichick, who is a big fan of Tony La Russa. During the postseason last year, Belichick showed up at a Patriots news conference wearing a Cardinals jersey. He'd spent a couple of days last spring with La Russa, and they'd hit it off. But he also called himself a Francona fan at that news conference.

Francona and Pioli have a friendship stemming in part from their mutual friendship with Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. "I think the world of him," Francona said of Pioli, who accompanied the manager to a back diamond to watch Jon Lester throw a simulated game yesterday morning.

"He told me, 'You have no idea how relaxing this is for me,' " Francona said of Pioli.

Jonathan Papelbon said he would have liked to have had a chance to talk with Belichick. "But [Curt ] Schilling and Wake [Tim Wakefield] had him for most of the time," Papelbon said in mock complaint.

Kevin Youkilis also spent some time chatting with Belichick, who, it can be reliably reported, did not ask Wily Mo Peña if he'd prefer playing outside linebacker for the three-time Super Bowl champions.

Lester has goal
Lester, who threw 34 pitches (by pitching coach John Farrell's count) in a two-inning simulated game, said afterward that barring any unexpected setbacks, he expects to be ready to start the season in someone's rotation, be it Boston's or Pawtucket's. The goal, he said and Farrell echoed, is for Lester to be throwing four- or five-inning stints by the end of camp. If that happens, Lester said, he'd be ready to take a regular turn in the rotation. "By the end of camp, by April 1, I'm headed somewhere, hopefully up north," the lefthander said.

Neither Farrell nor Francona was willing to make that leap just yet. They've been operating in two-week increments, they said, with the next step being Lester throwing two or three innings in a minor league game Friday. At this time, Farrell said, there are no plans for Lester to pitch with the big league club in an exhibition, but he acknowledged that could change. "Right now, we don't have him scheduled in 'A' games in large part because we don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Farrell said.

But Lester, who is recovering from a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, said that while stamina may have been an issue early in camp, which began less than two months after he'd undergone his last round of chemotherapy, that isn't the case now. "I'm pretty much back to normal, strengthwise," he said.

Downplay before play
Word out of Tigers camp was that Major League Baseball was looking into Saturday's bench-clearing incident with the Tigers, though a Sox official said he was not aware of it. Francona did not mention it in his pregame session, during which he downplayed the episode. Sox pitcher Josh Beckett hit Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez with pitches and Tigers reliever Todd Jones subsequently threw a ball behind J.D. Drew, which led to the ejections of Jones and Tigers manager Jim Leyland. That's when players from both teams milled around, but no punches were thrown. "I don't spend any time thinking about stuff like that," Francona said when asked if he thought there might be carryover to the regular season. "It goes away. When you're doing what we're doing, those things happen sometimes. It's not that big a deal. There was posturing going on, that's really all it was." But Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen hardly sounded as blasé about the affair as Francona, complaining about Beckett to John Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press. "It's the way he reacted," Guillen said. "He stood at the mound. It's like he didn't give a [expletive]. When you hit somebody in spring training, you should feel bad. [Ordonez] is trying to get ready for the season. He's an important guy for us. So, it's a worry to the team." Ordonez, who was hit in the head, didn't play for the Tigers yesterday. Guillen also said: "He almost hit Brandon [Inge] in the face with a fastball. He hit Sheffield with a first-pitch fastball. It makes you think, 'What's going on?' "

One-on-one for Pedroia
Rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has just three hits in his first 21 spring at-bats, had a one-on-one session on a back field with hitting coach Dave Magadan. Pedroia was the only projected Opening Day starter not in yesterday's lineup, as Alex Cora played second base. But Francona shook his head when asked if there was any scenario, short of an injury, in which Cora would open the season at second base instead of Pedroia. "That's not a knock on AC [Cora]," Francona said. "We brought Pedroia in to be our second baseman. I don't even know what he's hitting." . . . Former Sox prospect Carl Pavano, who was scratched from his scheduled start Friday because of a medical issue involving his girlfriend, draws the start here tonight for the Yankees. The Bombers also are expected to bring Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Melky Cabrera, and Robinson Cano. Wakefield is the scheduled starter for the Sox, with Papelbon throwing a simulated game against minor leaguers this afternoon . . . The Sox renewed the contracts of pitcher Javier Lopez and first baseman Youkilis while signing the following players to one-year deals: Nick Debarr, Manny Delcarmen, Kason Gabbard, Devern Hansack, Kyle Jackson, Lester, Edgar Martinez, Papelbon, David Pauley, George Kottaras, Pedroia, Brandon Moss, and David Murphy.

Gordon Edes can be reached at