Ramirez, David Ortiz and Julio Lugo are the only Sox players who had appeared in all 29 games before Sunday.
"There's never a good day to give Manny a day off," Francona said. "Somebody's always going to say, 'Why didn't you play Manny today?' So we work ahead to try and pick days."
Francona also sat down Lugo, who has seen his average fall from .333 to .221 with an 11-for-71 slide (.155). Lugo was hitless in 10 at-bats in the series before Sunday and is 1-for-15 in his last three games.
"In your first 100 at-bats, a scuffle is noticable," said Francona. "He's got a good track record. He'll get hits. I'm not going to move him in the order. Give him today off to get his legs back and he'll be fine. I'm not going to say I don't notice it, but overreacting to these things doesn't help."
Lugo said he appreciated the day off, as well as Francona's support.
"I feel great. I've just had some bad luck," Lugo said. "That happens."
Sitting Lugo enabled Francona to start Alex Cora, who has been one of Boston's hottest hitters. Cora began the day on a 13-for-29 tear (.448). Eric Hinske, who hits Ponson well (7-for-23, .304), drew the start in left for Ramirez.
Lester update: Francona said Jon Lester (left forearm cramp) will play catch on Tuesday in Toronto, his first step toward returning to the mound. Francona said Lester will progress to long-tossing and eventually throwing in the bullpen before he makes a start. The timetable remains in flux.
"Those days aren't on the clock, but that's the progression," Francona said.
Visiting hours: Ortiz joined Minnesota's Torii Hunter in visiting their former Twins teammate Corey Koskie on Saturday. Koskie, who lives in suburban Minneapolis, has been battling post-concussion syndrome and has not played for the Brewers since last season.
Ortiz said Koskie told him he is improving and might be able to return to the Brewers in about a month.
"He's doing OK," Ortiz said. "He needs some more time. But he feels way better than what he was. He was happy to see us, and we were happy to see him, too."
No bully blues: The Red Sox raved about the Twins bullpen's four scoreless innings behind Johan Santana on Saturday night, but the Boston bullpen has been pretty good, too. Joel Pineiro's two perfect innings on Saturday gave Red Sox relievers a 1.64 ERA in their last 22 games (10 earned runs in 55 innings). Going into Sunday, the Sox were one of three teams who have yet to blow a save on the road. The others are the Dodgers (6-for-6) and Mariners (3-for-3). Boston has seven road saves.
Scoring change: Kevin Youkilis received credit for an infield hit in the ninth inning Saturday night, a play originally scored an error on Twins third baseman Nick Punto. The Twins complained because Punto had been playing near the line to guard against an extra-base hit, and ranged far to his left to get a glove on the ball.
Up next: The Sox are off Monday and begin a three-game series in Toronto on Tuesday. Josh Beckett looks to go 7-0, and will be opposed by former Met Victor Zambrano.