A former All-Star, Varitek has struggled at the plate this season, batting .238 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs. However, his role as a leader and his ability to continually call the right pitches is a necessary cog to Red Sox success.
"It's a given here, which is great," Francona said. "I'm not sure it's that way everywhere. We certainly understand it and acknowledge it all the time. We talk about when he's not hitting, it really doesn't matter, because he's a catcher first, and if we win, that's what we're setting up to do. It's fantastic. There's a lot of responsibility in what we're doing during the game, [and] I can't think of a better person to handle the responsibility. This guy takes it to a pretty high level of preparation, and we appreciate that."
Feeling good: Eyeing a return within the next month after throwing a successful side session on Saturday, pitcher David Wells will likely join the team on its next road trip.
"I think, if he's feeling good, we want him to go with us," Francona said. "I just think, as you get closer, maybe being around the team will be really good for him. If he's getting close to pitching, which, I think, if his knee handles this, he's going to go quick because his arm's in great shape. Again, we're not trying to get him to run a marathon. We just want him to pitch six or seven innings. So, having him around would be good.
"I got really excited yesterday. About a month ago, it didn't look very good. I think he was pessimistic. ... He put on a clinic yesterday. It was really fun to watch. So, now, can you take it to the next step, which is bouncing back, fielding his position a little bit -- or, at least, enough? ... The glass looks a lot more full than it did before."
The southpaw has not pitched since May 26 after taking a line drive off his right knee and has only made two starts this season, going 0-1 with an 8.64 ERA.
Ouch! In the past two games between Boston and Oakland, there have been four hit batsmen, with the most anger-provoking pitch leaving Red sox pitcher Curt Schilling's hand and slamming into the back of Nick Swisher. The pitch induced warnings to both benches and left Oakland manger Ken Macha and outfielder Milton Bradley, among others, visibly upset.
"You know it was on purpose," Swisher said of his plunking. "Everyone in the stadium knew it was on purpose. If you don't think that was on purpose, you're crazy. What's done is done. Just put it in the memory bank."
However, Francona believes that it will not be an issue and would like to see Sunday's game free of retaliatory pitches.
"It didn't seem like much of an issue," Francona said. "Sometimes guys get hit. That's how the game goes."
Almost there: Outfielder Wily Mo Pena went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday. He is batting .242 with one home run and five RBIs in 33 at-bats, but should be back at Fenway shortly.
"Soon," Francona said. "I think he'll definitely be back soon."
Coming up: Despite soreness in his back, Wakefield (7-8, 4.05) will start for Boston on Monday against right-hander Luke Hudson (2-3, 5.79) and the Kansas City Royals in the opening game of a three-game set at Fenway Park. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.