"If you're a regular player and you wake up in the morning knowing you're not playing," Francona said, "you wake up and take a deep breath. You wake up with a different mentality. If you're going to get a day off, I want it to be of good use."
Lowell typically doesn't feel as much peace of mind. The 10-year Major League veteran, who has played in an average of 154 games over the last three years, was told after Saturday's game that he wouldn't be in the Sunday lineup. Did he appreciate the chance to rest? Or did he roll his eyes and express some exasperation?
"That would be the understatement," Francona said of the latter. "[But] that's pretty close."
Lowell is happy and healthy and, with a .924 OPS through 34 games, swinging the best bat of his career. But the day off will give the 33-year-old corner man a chance to rest his legs until Monday night's tilt with Detroit -- "even though he detests it," Francona said.
It will also allow backup Eric Hinske to join fellow utility infielder Alex Cora in a lefty-heavy lineup against Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie, whose season ERA against left-handers (9.39) is nearly eight runs higher than his mark against righties (1.98). Lefties have hit .349 against Guthrie across his four-year career.
"We just try to pick days to keep guys fresh, keep guys productive, and send a lineup out there that will win," Francona said.
Before Sunday's game, Lowell casually suited up for team stretches, knowing full well that in pro sports, time off still means showing up for work.
"A real day off is when there's no game," Lowell said.
Lowell will be available to pinch-hit, especially if the Orioles call on a late-inning left-handed reliever. In the fifth inning, Lowell said, he will start warming up in the batting cage.
"If I'm needed, I'm needed," he said. "Hopefully, we'll win 10-1, and I'll just sit on the bench and chew a lot of gum."
Pedroia sits: Dustin Pedroia has come into his own, even if he continues to be replaced in the lineup, Francona said. Cora pinch-hit for Pedroia on Saturday and delivered a key two-run single off Baltimore reliever Todd Williams.
On Sunday, Cora -- who is now 19-of-44 with two home runs -- started in place of Pedroia.
"I don't think it's a matter of not being comfortable enough," Francona said of the rookie Pedroia, who is batting .385 in May. "He's actually been swinging the bat pretty well. [But] we have a guy right now that's batting about .430.
"Put those numbers together," he added, and "we're probably near the top of the league."
During the previous road trip, to Minnesota and Toronto, was when Pedroia became "visibly relaxed," according to Francona. He stopped pressing, and he began to understand his role on the team.
"It made me feel better," Francona said, "because then you can hit for a guy like that and not worry about him looking over his shoulder or feeling the heat. I don't want that to be that way."
Lester update: On a Mother's Day when Major Leaguers swung pink bats to generate awareness and raise funds for breast cancer research, cancer survivor Jon Lester continued his comeback by throwing a 40-pitch bullpen session at Fenway Park.
He worked on his fastball and changeup, Francona said.
"Did well," he said. "He'll go back on Wednesday and do another [session]."
On the farm: Right-handed pitching prospect Michael Bowden carried on his torrid bat-missing campaign at Class A Lancaster, working seven one-hit innings of scoreless baseball, striking out five and lowering his ERA to 1.37, third best in the California League.
Bowden is currently at work on a 21-inning scoreless streak. He has struck out 46 batters in 46 innings, second best in the league.
Outfielder Bubba Bell backed up Bowden with a 2-for-4 day and now leads the league in several offensive categories, including home runs (10), RBIs (38) and average (.361).
On deck: On Monday, Daisuke Matsuzaka will attempt to build on the progress of his most recent start, at Toronto (seven innings, one earned run), against the visiting American League champion Detroit Tigers. The Tigers will come to Fenway atop the AL Central, having won nine of their previous 10 games. They have scored 5.54 runs per game, second best in the Majors.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less