In essence, what Francona believes in to a degree is the Bill James theory that the most important outs aren't necessarily in the ninth inning.
"If we need to get him in the eighth to get out [of a jam], and even if for some reason, I was uncomfortable pitching him in the ninth ... you don't want to lose the game that early when you have a weapon that valuable down there," said Francona. "That will be a lot easier to do once [Mike] Timlin comes back, because he's used to maybe pitching a clean ninth. We have guys who can do it, but not guys who are used to doing it."
Papelbon certainly didn't have any over-use when the Red Sox broke him out for his first save situation in the ninth inning of Thursday's game. He didn't pitch in the first two games, and was working on six days of rest.
There was no rust, however, as Papelbon preserved Daisuske Matsuzaka's first Major League win with a 1-2-3 inning, two of the outs coming on strikeouts.
Lester strong in debut: Francona got a good report from Class A Greenville manager Gabe Kapler on Jon Lester's start Thursday night.
Over four innings, the lefty allowed one hit and no runs, walking one and striking out five. He threw just 53 pitches while reaching the mid 90s on the radar gun.
"He kind of came in below his limit on pitches," Francona said. "He threw his cutter very effectively. He felt good. He felt good about himself. Kap's going to want to keep him there longer than he's going to get him."
Lester will make three more starts for Greenville and then the Red Sox will re-evaluate his program.
Francona is determined not to rush Lester back, given all he went through over the winter in recovering from anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Even if Lester continues to shut down opponents like he did Thursday, the Red Sox will resist the urge to accelerate the program that has been mapped out.
"We expect him to do well," Francona. "This is not for his development of proving he can pitch, but his development of coming back from being pretty sick. He's not being punished. We're just trying to be very careful and handle him correctly."
Papi's slow start: Sox slugger David Ortiz went 0-for-4 on Friday to drop his average to .133. Papi has yet to go deep after clearing the wall 54 times last year.
But Ortiz isn't worried.
"I always go through this at the beginning of the season," Ortiz said. "Fight, fight, fight until I get myself into the groove. I'm not frustrated yet. It's too early. It's all good. It's just the beginning of the season."
Timlin getting close: Timlin also pitched on Thursday, allowing two hits but no runs over an inning for Triple-A Pawtucket. Of Timlin's 17 pitches, 10 were for strikes.
The righty setup man will start Saturday's game for Pawtucket and then, barring any complications, be activated for Boston's home opener against the Mariners on Tuesday.
Timlin strained his right oblique muscle on Feb. 25, forcing him to start the season on the disabled list.
Daisuke a day later: Matsuzaka was still a topic of conversation a day after his dazzling debut against the Royals. Despite the chilly temperatures, Matsuzaka still had precise command of his offspeed pitches.
"And that was the worry going in," said Francona. "That's the worry with everybody that you just don't have a feel. I think we saw it with Josh [Beckett] a little bit. But it didn't seem to bother him at all."
Red Sox public relations director John Blake pointed out in Friday's game notes that Matsuzaka became the fifth Boston rookie since 1980 to strike out 10 or more batters in a game. Roger Clemens did it three times in 1984. Aaron Sele did it three times in 1993. Casey Fossum had 10 Ks in one of his starts in 2002 and Lester did it last season in Atlanta.
On deck: Julian Tavarez makes his return to the starting rotation on Saturday night, when he faces Rangers ace Kevin Millwood in the middle game of this three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.