Moments after Daisuke Matsuzaka finished a successful 40-pitch batting practice session at City of Palms Park Wednesday, Tim Wakefield was seen strolling past and heading to his car, a sandwich in his right hand.
Such are the comings and goings of the back end of the Red Sox’ rotation, which may get a bit more muddled as Matsuzaka continues to show progress in his battle back from a neck strain.
During the session — watched closely by pitching coach John Farrell, manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein – the right-hander threw all of his pitches and worked from both the windup and the stretch. He was conscious not to come too far inside against hitters Aaron Bates, Tug Hulett and Angel Sanchez (one delivery soared about three feet outside, drawing a little smile from Matsuzaka) but worked quickly and appeared to have good velocity.
An extra 10 fastballs were thrown with nobody in the box.
While he is about three weeks behind his fellow starters, Matsuzaka took a giant step in an otherwise difficult spring and may soon cause the debate to begin again over who rounds out the rotation.
“Really the only way to go from here is forward, so I’m not going to spend much time looking over my shoulder,” Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. “I think gradually I feel that I can get over these frustrations as we move forward.”
The 29-year-old admitted he was worried about how the neck would feel but reported no issues.
Friday morning, Matsuzaka will be re-examined and likely throw a bullpen session, which would put him on course to appear for two innings in a minor league game Sunday or Monday, according to Farrell.
The plan puts him on schedule to be “stretched out” at some point in early April. That does not necessarily mean the club has to make a decision between Matsuzaka, Wakefield and Clay Buchholz at that point.
Boston has three days off in the first 10 days of the regular season. It may not need a fifth starter until April 19, exactly 15 days into the season. If Matsuzaka starts the season on the disabled list, he would be eligible to return at that time and may have had enough work to be ready to go.
All of that is down the road and any discussions would hinge on how well Matsuzaka performs from here on out in Florida. But after two weeks of what he called “stops and starts,” Matsuzaka is most certainly moving forward.
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