FORT MYERS, Fla. - Red Sox ace Josh Beckett walked to the mound at City of Palms Park yesterday, threw one warm-up pitch, and put his hand to his lower back. He tried five more tosses before alerting catcher Jason Varitek, who brought out manager Terry Francona and the trainers. That was it for Beckett, who was removed as a precaution before the start of the game against the Florida Marlins. He was diagnosed with lower back spasms.
"In his first warm-up toss after warming up in the bullpen, in which he was fine, his landing foot seemed to give way just a little bit," pitching coach John Farrell said, indicating that the slide of Beckett's front foot put pressure on his back one. "That's when he felt some spasm or some tightness in his low back. Subsequently to that, he threw another five pitches. At that, the spasm had gotten to the point where he felt it was best to shut it down."
Beckett was examined by the team's medical staff, but the severity of the injury was unknown. Nor was it known when Beckett might take the mound again.
"Rather than pitch a game today, when he could do some further damage, we took him out," Francona said. "He'll be examined thoroughly, as he was today, and probably more importantly tomorrow. See how he shows up, see how he feels."
Beckett did not speak with the media but relayed a message through director of media relations John Blake, saying, "We'll just have to wait and see how it feels tomorrow."
He was replaced by Manny Delcarmen, who threw two scoreless innings in a 5-2 Boston loss that left a packed City of Palms Park wondering why Beckett had left.
Opinions differed as to whether the injury was a result of the trouble with the mound, or whether Beckett had been fighting a sore lower back the last week. Francona said back soreness "happens to probably half our camp," mentioning that the team had tried to keep Beckett out of his spikes as much as possible the last week to lessen pressure on his back.
But when asked about Beckett having prior back problems, Farrell said, "No, not that I'm aware of."
A simulated game for minor leaguers had begun at 9:30 a.m., then the grounds crew prepared the mound for the major league game.
"This field got a lot of play today, but we've been fighting the consistencies of the mounds in the bullpen and here, and that's not to blame anybody," Francona said. "Gets a lot of use. We beat them up, try to get them to be the same, and today was a hard day to do that because of our playing a game at 9 o'clock this morning."
Added Farrell, "Whether there was appropriate time needed or taken to prepare the mound, bottom line, the texture, the content, was a little bit different than what the bullpen mound has."
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia said he could tell Beckett had aggravated something.
"He was just moving around like he was stiff and, obviously, nothing really bothers him," Pedroia said. "I don't think anybody wants him to chance that, especially in spring training. We don't need him to put up zeros in spring training. We need him during the season."
Beckett has not yet faced major leaguers this spring. He pitched against Boston College Feb. 28, then against the Twins in a B game Monday. He had thrown five innings, giving up one run on two hits with nine strikeouts. Beckett was likely to have started twice more in Florida before heading with the Sox to Japan to pitch the season opener against Oakland at the Tokyo Dome.
But yesterday, as Beckett's hand went to his back, there was a collective intake of breath from the Sox dugout.
"Are you kidding me? There probably still is," Francona said. "There's no reason to ask him to pitch a game down here when we have so much baseball to play. If a kid like Beckett ever threw a pitch and hurt his arm because he was favoring his back, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.