Josh Beckett will be the Red Sox' Opening Day starter, manager Terry Francona announced on Friday, ending days of not only speculation but also expectations that Beckett would eventually get the nod.
Beckett will pitch April 4 in the season opener against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. After a day off, the Sox will go with Jon Lester on April 6 and John Lackey the next night in the finale of the three-game set. After another day off, Tim Wakefield gets the ball on Friday, April 9, in Kansas City, followed by Beckett.
However, despite having three days off in the first 10 days of the regular season, Boston will not begin the year with a four-man rotation. Clay Buchholz will make his debut April 11 in Kansas City, followed by Lester, Lackey, Wakefield and Beckett again. The group will stay in that order going forward, although many factors can come into play — one being April weather and another being the eventual arrival of Daisuke Matsuzaka later in the month.
For now, Francona is pleased with the process that got him to this point.
"We thought about a lot of things," Francona said. "We're trying to balance present, future, performance, winning, and I think we're all comfortable with where we got to."
Francona indicated that there would be concerns over whether some guys would get too much rest or not enough rest if the team had elected to use just four starters for the first two weeks. He said the plan in place means the "balance is good."
"Nobody's going to sit too much, and once we get through these days, guys can stay right in order," Francona said.
Beckett threw Opening Day in 2009 and opened twice when he was a member of the Florida Marlins, first in 2003 and again the following year.
Francona said that the top three of Beckett, Lester and Lackey had known their order for "some time," but the skipper had held off on making anything public about how Wakefield and Buchholz would be used.
"I've talked to Wake and I told him to be patient," Francona said. "We're trying to figure out a good way that we thought that would make it work."
Behind Lackey, Wakefield may have had the best spring of the group. He is 3-1 with a 3.66 ERA. Coupled with Matsuzaka's neck issue and an up-and-down spring for Buchholz, his spot seemed all but guaranteed. Buchholz gave up six runs in less than two innings earlier this week to fall behind the veteran knuckleballer.
There was discussion early in camp that Lester might get the No. 1 nod, but Beckett had been lined up ahead of Lester for weeks and took a big step with a dominant outing against Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
After facing the Yankees in the second game of the year, Lester will be lined up to take on the Minnesota Twins in the opener at Target Field on April 12. His strong outing Friday was overshadowed by the rotation announcement and a handful of transactions, but his progress was noted.
"Right now, I feel great," Lester said after allowing two unearned runs in six innings of a 3-2 win over Toronto. "Physically and mentally."
With a road map for the first half of April drawn up, so too does Francona, and all those who were waiting on his word.