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Major move: Matsuzaka will start Tuesday

Daisuke Matsuzaka will take the mound for the Sox after nearly three months of rehabbing and conditioning. Daisuke Matsuzaka will take the mound for the Sox after nearly three months of rehabbing and conditioning. (Gretchen Ertl/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 12, 2009

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It has been nearly three months, one major misunderstanding, and quite a few pounds since Daisuke Matsuzaka last took the mound for the Red Sox. That was on June 19, an outing in which he allowed six runs in just four innings, sending him on an odyssey that has taken him through Fort Myers, Fla., and much of the minor league system. But Matsuzaka will be back in the majors Tuesday.

His last start, against Single A competition, was a positive development, with Matsuzaka throwing 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits and one walk, and striking out seven. He got up to 89 pitches, which was the intended result.

Now, apparently, he’s ready. With Josh Beckett scheduled to pitch today, followed by Clay Buchholz in the first game of tomorrow’s doubleheader and Jon Lester in the second, Matsuzaka is lined up to start the first game of the series against the Angels. That keeps Matsuzaka on his regular turn in the rotation after pitching in the playoff game for Salem, though he does get one extra day of rest because the Sox are off Monday.

“Sounded like he held his velocity, had some depth to the slider later in the game as he accumulated some pitches, fastball stayed, which was good,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “Again, it’s Winston-Salem, but pitching good is better than pitching bad, and we wanted him to get deep into the game and compete a little bit.’’

Beyond that, the rotation is in flux. Tim Wakefield is still waiting to come back from a cortisone shot to his lower back on Thursday, and Paul Byrd is in a holding pattern. The Sox are waiting to see what happens during the doubleheader before scheduling a start for Byrd, which could come Wednesday if he isn’t needed tomorrow.

Matsuzaka has had a rocky - and close to nonexistent - season for the Sox. He has made just eight starts in the majors after coming into spring training out of shape, having skipped spring training to pitch for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. He was stuck on the disabled list after a disastrous start in Oakland in April, missing a month, then returned for six more mostly poor outings before landing on the DL again. Matsuzaka is 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA after going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA last season.

“We could use him,’’ Mike Lowell said. “We’ll see how he throws.’’

Backup plan
The plan to have Jason Varitek catch both Beckett and Lester has been thrown out. Varitek continues to catch Beckett, but Victor Martinez has caught Lester in three of his last four starts, with Lester going 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA and an 0.87 WHIP.

“Some of that is Lester, too,’’ Francona said. “I mean, there’s some nights - and I don’t mean to lessen their impact - but the way Lester pitches, I could probably catch him. I mean, he’s good. We’re not lessening the significance of the catcher. But Victor’s ability to be open-minded and to listen to Tek and listen to Lester, be open about things, listen to [pitching coach] John Farrell, has really worked well.’’

Martinez has caught more in Boston than he did in Cleveland, but Francona said Martinez is managing physically. That was why the Sox planned to give him Wednesday off (he pinch hit and had the winning double) and are keeping an eye on his playing time.

Martinez has reversed his splits this season, with better numbers as a first baseman. Over his career, he has better numbers as a catcher. This season he has seven homers in 271 at-bats with a .269 average, .356 on-base percentage, and .410 slugging as a catcher. He has 12 homers in 229 at-bats, with a .323 average, .402 OBP, and .541 slugging as a first baseman. Prior to this season, Martinez had 80 homers in 632 at-bats, with a .299 average, .369 OBP, and .465 slugging as a catcher, and four homers in 199 at-bats, with a .291 average, .354 OBP, and .437 slugging as a first baseman.

“They’re flip-flopped in his career,’’ Francona said. “I try to be aware of everything. Sometimes you don’t know if there’s a real reason or if it’s a small sample size. But I am aware of it.’’

Wakefield eyeing Birds
Although there is nothing definitive, Wakefield is targeting a start in Baltimore Sept. 18-20. Wakefield, who had another cortisone shot in his lower back Thursday, was walking better in the clubhouse yesterday. He said he felt “good enough.’’ Wakefield was asked if he was concerned about getting three shots in about six weeks, all in the same spot. “The doctor said it’s not harmful,’’ he said. “It’s not like the shoulder, where it can be potentially harmful. So I trust the doctors.’’ He said he is confident he will start again this season for the Sox . . . The Rays will start Wade Davis today, with Matt Garza pitching the first game tomorrow. James Shields, who didn’t even take the mound last night, will pitch tomorrow in the 5 p.m. game . . . Lowell didn’t seem bothered by the postponement. “The fact that we play a day-night actually helps in that mental frame of mind,’’ Lowell said. “If you go back-to-back it’s kind of like you’ve got a lot of momentum of winning Game 1, you kind of start over. Either way here, with the day-night doubleheader you know there’s a break. Regular season, if they cancel and you make it up, I think everyone wants to make it up in September just because there’s more arms, there’s more bodies.’’

Adam Kilgore of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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