MONTVILLE, Conn. -- With his 2012 Red Sox facing questions about their starting pitching depth, Bobby Valentine is looking to an unlikely source as inspiration:

The 2011 Yankees.

"Last year at this time, the Red Sox had too much starting pitching . . . and the Yankees had the reverse,'' Valentine said Friday night, addressing the World Baseball Coaches Convention at Mohegan Sun. "They were saying, '[Freddy] Garcia? [Bartolo] Colon? Who are they? Who's going to be their fourth and fifth starters?'

"They did in fact win the American League East last year.''

When that response drew a smattering of applause, Valentine -- getting his first opportunity to manage in the major leagues since the Mets fired him after the 2002 season -- smiled and quoted a line from an unidentified friend: "Yankees fans aren't that smart. The easiest thing they understand is the clap.''

Yes, as he already has made clear, Valentine intends to have fun with the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

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"I'm just looking forward to this new experience of passionately-fought baseball games,'' he said. "It should be fun. Eighteen times at least, huh? Against the Yankees?''

Valentine has this opportunity thanks to the Red Sox's historic collapse and subsequent firing of manager Terry Francona last season, and while he addresses such issues as the suspect back end of the rotation -- former setup man Daniel Bard will try starting in spring training, as will former Yankee Alfredo Aceves -- Valentine knows that most of the early chatter will cover the team's chemistry.

Francona admitted to being disappointed in certain players' conduct, and reports surfaced that some pitchers ate fried chicken and drank beer during games.

"We've got to go to the draft beer and the grilled chicken, I think,'' Valentine joked. He added: "If that happened, it's inexcusable . . . The apologies are out there, the assurances. It will never happen on my watch.''

In virtually non-stop travel mode since his hiring in early December, Valentine has either met or spoken with all of Boston's key players. He addressed the concerns of pitcher Josh Beckett, who didn't like being criticized by then-ESPN commentator Valentine during a game against the Yankees. "He told me that he used a slower motion as a competitive edge against the Yankees,'' Valentine said of Beckett.

He described himself as "pleasantly surprised'' by his meeting with Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been publicly portrayed as unhappy despite putting up an excellent season.

"If anything was bothering him last year,'' Valentine said of Ellsbury, "I want to find what it is and bother him again this year.''

Valentine said he thinks leftfielder Carl Crawford, who recently had surgery to repair his injured left wrist, will be ready for the start of the regular season.