Masterson in pen; Buchholz in limbo
FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Red Sox finalized two major pitching decisions (the first four starters and Justin Masterson's role), while leaving two others (the fifth starter and Clay Buchholz's role) open for now.
None of the developments, revealed yesterday by manager Terry Francona, are surprising. Josh Beckett, for the first time since he joined the Red Sox in November 2005, will be Boston's Opening Day starter. He'll be followed, in order, by Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield.
The Red Sox are waiting on naming their fifth starter, who, because of a day off April 7, will not be needed until the April 12 game at the Los Angeles Angels. They want to evaluate righthander Brad Penny, who pitched four innings yesterday in a 9-4 victory over the Twins, after his final two starts of the spring.
"You don't want to rush into something because there's an arbitrary date," Francona said. "We need a pitcher, but we don't want to make a mistake, either. [Penny has] been great about buying into everything. We'll continue to talk to him and see how he's progressing."
Penny previously battled fatigue in his pitching shoulder, but was stellar last Monday in his first start, in which he pitched three innings. He gave up two runs on three hits yesterday before recording his first out, then retired 12 of the next 13 batters. He threw 68 pitches (46 for strikes) and felt "great" about his stamina. Penny was particularly satisfied with his split-fingered fastball, which helped produce eight ground outs.
Penny's velocity hovered around 90 miles per hour, slower than his first start, when he threw in the 93-95-m.p.h. range. The decrease, Penny said, was by design.
"I went in with a different mind-frame," he said. "The first time, I went out to let it go, test myself. Today, I went out to pitch a little bit, mix up my pitches. Now I'm thinking more about pitching than about hurting. So I can go out there and actually execute a game plan."
If Penny is healthy and effective, it seems the pitcher left out of the equation would be Buchholz, who with a 0.46 ERA has been the Sox' best pitcher this spring. Francona has not spoken with Buchholz about where he will begin the season, because it has not been finalized.
"We can't tell guys stuff we don't know," Francona said. "Whatever the decision ends up being on Clay won't diminish how we feel about him. That's for sure."
A reporter suggested to Francona that, reading between the lines, it appeared Buchholz would be the fifth starter, at least at the outset of the season, if Penny is not ready. "I don't blame you for reading between the lines," Francona said. "I'm probably not going to talk between the lines."
Buchholz would be the obvious choice, in part, because Masterson will be a reliever. The Red Sox placed him on a starter's throwing schedule, keeping open the option to use Masterson as a starter.
"We're going to put him in the bullpen," Francona said. "We love the idea of what we did with him. We think it's really good for him. I think we've gotten to a point in spring where we think it's in his best interest now to go the other way, for our ball club to get set, not having him hang in the balance, not knowing what he's going to do."
Masterson consistently said he did not have a preference and was never overly anxious to learn his role.
"If he was a kid that couldn't handle it or it caused a lot of anxiety, we would have done it differently," Francona said. "We kept checking with him. If we ever felt like it was counterproductive, we wouldn't have done it. He's a solid kid, and he understands. We never want to do something that's going to put somebody in a tough state, and he's fine."
Beckett has started Opening Day three times in his career, but only with the Marlins. Since he arrived, Curt Schilling pitched Opening Day in 2006 and '07. Last season, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched the opener in Tokyo in place of an injured Beckett.
"It would be a great honor," Beckett said Friday. "Obviously, it's something you're always striving for. When you get to the big leagues, it's something you look forward to and something I'm definitely looking forward to."
Last season, Matsuzaka pitched in front of Lester. Francona said the reason for the switch was not based on performance, but rather because of Matsuzaka's World Baseball Classic schedule.
"I don't think it really mattered," Francona said. "We just got our hands on Daisuke. Rather than flip-flop everybody's order, we have it settled in."
To prepare for their starts, Lester and Matsuzaka will pitch Friday and Saturday against the Mets in New York in the final exhibition games of the spring. Wakefield will pitch a minor league game here Saturday.
Adam Kilgore can be reached at email@example.com