"I bet he could go 80 to 90 pitches, that wouldn't surprise me. He doesn't have to and hopefully [Sunday] goes as planned. We haven't been in the bullpen the last couple of nights and you get an outing like [Tim Wakefield's on Saturday], it really helps," Francona said in describing DiNardo's pitch limit.
DiNardo will be making his second big-league start. He got the call from Francona last Sept. 2 against Baltimore, also at Fenway Park. He took the loss in a 7-3 setback at the hands of the Orioles, allowing four runs (one earned) and seven hits over six innings.
"I think anytime you experience anything, it should help," said the skipper. "You just have to use it to your advantage. I think we all try to do that. Experience is good, that why they call it experience but you have to use it to your advantage."
He walked only one in that September start and struck out a career-high six batters, showing that he was beginning to gain a measure of command of his pitches.
"When he first came, he has this unique ability to make the ball move, he just can't throw it straight. It sinks, it cuts. It's funny because when [Bill Haselman] goes out to warm him up, it's hitting him in the wrist, the ball is just not straight," Francona said.
"He's learning as he's going, but he's done a pretty good job of learning."
Should Francona need to go to his 'pen early, it's not guaranteed that right-hander Jermaine Van Buren, who was recalled from Pawtucket to take Wells' spot on the 25-man roster, would immediately come in and make his Boston debut.
"It depends on where we are," Francona said. "This is a little bit of a unique day. If Lenny needs to come out in the third or fourth, we might go to [Julian] Tavarez. It just depends where we're at. I don't think you automatically just go to supposedly the 'long' guy in the fourth or fifth inning. We have to finish out the game, and it might be the biggest rally of the game or the most important inning of the game, so we'll see where we're at."
Hot to Trot: Barring any last-minute changes, right fielder Trot Nixon (mild left groin strain) is expected to return to the lineup Monday against Seattle right-hander Gil Meche. Nixon was rested again Sunday, the fifth game he missed since suffering the injury on Tuesday.
"I think there's a decent chance he'll play," Francona said. "He'll go outside and do his stuff. He had a real good day [Saturday], felt strong, did a lot of turning, then hit. We have a righty [Gil Meche] tomorrow and a lefty the next day. If he could play [Monday], that'd be great to give him the next day to bounce back and not overdo it.
"We have to be careful because Trot's Trot. He's gonna want to do more than he's supposed to because that's the way he is. We appreciate it, but it's the same thing that gets him hurt," Francona said.
Left over and over: Sunday's game against Seattle's Jarrod Washburn marked the fourth left-handed starter the Sox have faced in the last five days.
"Because we have Wily Mo [Pena] and Dustan [Mohr], this is probably as good a time as any," Francona said.
The Sox will continue the left-handed trend when the face Tampa Bay's Casey Fossum on Tuesday and Scott Kazmir on Thursday. Barring rainouts, Boston will have faced six lefties in 10 games on the homestand. Fossum and Kazmir were part of a remarkable stretch following the All-Star break last year when Boston encountered six consecutive lefties from July 16-21.
Coming up: The Red Sox conclude their four-game series with the Mariners in the annual Patriots Day game at 11:05 a.m. ET. DiNardo (0-0, 3.38 ERA) makes his first start of the season. Meche (1-0, 6.75 ERA) starts for Seattle.