Red Sox notebook

Not giving first clue

Francona holding back on Opening Day starter

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 24, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Terry Francona isn’t tipping his hand concerning his Opening Day starter.

After all, there’s plenty of time to make an announcement, even though more and more teams seem to be jumping the gun and getting the drama over with. Francona said yesterday he really doesn’t like doing it too soon.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,’’ he said. “[We] would rather get through the bulk of spring and know for a fact that’s going to happen.’’

With the Red Sox, it could get a little tricky.

Based strictly on performance, the choice should be Jon Lester. The lefthander is coming off a 19-9 season and has a dazzling 61-25 career mark, having established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

No brainer, right?

The only other thought is Josh Beckett, who has been the leader of this staff since he got here in 2006 and is determined to bounce back from a poor season. Beckett has won big games, and making him the Opening Day starter may have symbolic significance — a message that the Sox need him to be a key contributor.

But even Beckett would acknowledge that Lester has been the best and most consistent pitcher on this staff for some time. So why wouldn’t Francona just come out and say it?

Only the manager knows for sure. But in the next few weeks, the fact that nobody has been officially named could spark a little competition. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Lefthanders looking good Francona was excited about two of his lefties, Rich Hill and Andrew Miller, who threw batting practice yesterday.

Talking about Hill’s new sidearm motion, Francona said, “He bought into it last September when he was throwing from various angles. It’s what we liked him to do, but if a guy doesn’t feel comfortable, it’s not going to work.

“He actually brought to our attention that this is his comfort zone. When he’s out there playing long-toss on flat ground, that’s the angle he throws with.

“The hard thing is when you go out there and give up some runs and staying with it. But I think this is something that will allow him to be part of a major league bullpen.’’

Francona is thrilled by the progress of reclamation project Miller, who is trying to reinvent himself. All signs point to him starting at Pawtucket, but as what? The Sox may see him as a reliever, but Miller is throwing a mid to high 90s fastball, changeup, and curveball.

“I’ve developed a changeup that is more than serviceable, and to be honest, it has been my go-to pitch the last couple of years,’’ he said. “If I reach that light at the end of the tunnel, it will be nice to know I found a valuable pitch as a lefty, especially against righties.

“In an ideal world, I would love to start, and I’m capable of that long-term. The goal is to get to the big leagues and help the big team win.’’

Francona is trying to simplify things for Miller.

“We don’t want it to be a big adjustment,’’ Francona said. “I know he’s been through a lot. He has the high leg kick, and because of the way he threw, teams tried to change him.

“We really tried to simplify it and let that athleticism and let that ability take over. Some pretty special stuff is coming out of that arm. Rather than have 30-pitch side days to find the results, I want him to enjoy the journey.’’

Francona said the many moving parts in Miller’s delivery, as a result of being so tall (6 feet 7 inches), always will be an issue.

“It takes a while, because the biggest thing is to repeat your delivery,’’ said Francona. “When you have that much body, it’s hard to repeat. But when he gets it right, it’s awful pretty.’’

No-hitter for Gonzalez Adrian Gonzalez took a day off from hitting off a tee but will resume normal activity today. Gonzalez did take infield practice, and said his surgically repaired right shoulder felt fine . . . The Sox made a one-year offer to Chad Durbin, the hard-throwing former Phillies reliever, but as of last night, they had not heard whether he accepted or would pursue what might be better opportunities in Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, or Texas.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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