The Red Sox manager said that right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka should be ready to take his next turn in the rotation, which could come as early as Friday at Fenway Park against the New York Mets.
"That's a pretty good possibility," said Francona, who said he still had to confer with general manager Theo Epstein and Triple-A Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson on Monday. "We pretty much expect him to pitch."
Matsuzaka, on the disabled list since April 15 with a right shoulder strain, was 0-1 with a 12.79 ERA in two big league starts, but has looked sharp in his Minor League rehabilitation outings. He made his third rehab start with Pawtucket at Toledo on Friday and threw five innings (70 pitches, 48 strikes), yielding two runs on three hits and a walk and striking out nine.
Francona said Johnson told him that Matsuzaka is just about ready, so the team can now reap the benefits of being extra careful with a pitcher who went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 154 strikeouts last season.
"It sounds like he's pretty strong and felt pretty good about his outing," Francona said. "Pitching is hard to find, and trying to do the right thing isn't very easy to do. I guarantee Dice-K would have taken the ball [if we asked him]. If he can take the ball every five or six days for the rest of the season, we'll be OK. It'll give us a chance to be a pretty good team."
Francona wouldn't say what will happen to the current starting rotation when Matsuzaka is back in the fold, but it's believed that Justin Masterson will go back to the bullpen.
Masterson said that's fine with him.
"I feel like I've gotten comfortable in the starting role, knowing my routine and what I want to do," Masterson said. "I'll make my start tomorrow and not look or plan ahead until I'm done with that start tomorrow.
"Whatever takes place after that, it's good. It's not like going back to the 'pen is a demotion. I just want to go out and pitch well. Whatever role that might be, let it be."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.