Daisuke Matsuzaka to Begin Season in Minor Leagues

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Daisuke Matsuzaka to Begin Season in Minor Leagues A catchphrase used often in Fort Myers whenever a Red Sox player makes progress is "a step in the right direction."    

The oft-used line could be applied to three of the team’s pitchers Monday, most notably Daisuke Matsuzaka, who continues to progress toward a return to the rotation a few weeks into April.

Throwing in a simulated game at the team’s player development complex with no defense behind him, Matsuzaka tossed 62 pitches, 41 for strikes. His velocity was similar to his previous outing at the complex last week, reaching around 91 mph.

Pitching coach John Farrell said that Matsuzaka will throw in relief of Tim Wakefield on Saturday in Washington and then make three starts in the minors before he is ready to go in the majors around April 23.

The sites of those minor league appearances remain to be seen. Farrell said that the team must balance the possible inclement weather of games in Pawtucket or Portland with the reduced intensity of games at the lower levels down South.

"We’ll factor that in," Farrell said of the weather. "Not that we’re going to look at the farmer’s almanac or anything. It’s something we’ll definitely consider."

So long as the weather cooperates, the team will prefer that Matsuzaka gets the work done up North. After throwing to minor league hitters without a defense and no base runners, it sounded as if Matsuzaka was ready to increase the intensity.

His first big step in doing so will come Saturday against the Nationals.

"It’s going to be right before the season opener and it’s going to be a much more intense environment and I think that’s the most important thing for me right now is to pitch in an environment like that," Matsuzaka said.

Matsuzaka has only pitched two innings in Grapefruit League play. Of the 15 men he faced, he struck out six and gave up one sure hit, a soft liner to right by shortstop Moises Tejeda.

Farrell said he saw much more arm strength than before and noted an increased sharpness on the breaking pitches.

If the right-hander gets through his minor league appearances without any further issues and has his stuff at a level where he can get major league hitters out, he could force some tough decision-making in late April. Clay Buchholz, the current No. 5 starter, is scheduled to start April 22 at home against Texas. The No. 4 man, Tim Wakefield, is lined up to go two days earlier.

Also on the mound Monday were Boof Bonser and Manny Delcarmen. Bonser, who figures to add depth in the event that an emergency starter is needed, has been dealing with a groin issue.

Farrell said there is still some hesitation from Bonser on his delivery. The big righty, who missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, will throw in a minor league game Saturday when the team is in Washington and begin the season left behind.

Delcarmen fared a bit better, according to Farrell. He showed intensity absent in previous outings this spring, despite the casual atmosphere at the complex. The velocity that disappeared last season as Delcarmen battled shoulder issues was back up to 93 mph on the radar gun and he felt his best breaking stuff in a long time.

"The breaking ball was actually breaking for a strike so I’ll take that any day," Delcarmen said.

The right-hander hinted that his 40-pitch outing will help him get ready for a slightly different role this season. He may be used as a long or middle reliever going two innings or more.

An offseason spent on cardio work and a reduced throwing program has him prepared to take on such a role.

"I was cautious a little during the offseason and body-wise I feel great," he said.

Delcarmen will pitch Thursday when the Red Sox host Minnesota at City of Palms Park.

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