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Pitching decisions unclear

Red Sox reticent; Wakefield curious

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 26, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tim Wakefield has pitched in five games for the Red Sox so far this spring, posting a 3.66 ERA. He was solid again yesterday, shutting out the Marlins for five innings before getting a little tired in the sixth and giving up three runs.

“He’s done fine,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “He’s done a good job.’’

But with the regular season set to open in 10 days, Wakefield has not been told when he will pitch or even whether he will be in the rotation.

“I’m very curious, not knowing,’’ Wakefield said. “Normally I kind of know what’s going on. They have some decisions to make and we’ll see what happens.’’

The Sox have three off days during the first 10 days of the season, a schedule that would allow them to skip a fifth starter until April 18. Or they could use five starters and give everybody extra days of rest.

There is almost certainly a plan in place, given how meticulous Francona and pitching coach John Farrell are about such matters. But no decisions have been announced. Francona won’t even acknowledge that Josh Beckett is his choice to make the Opening Night start against the Yankees April 4.

It became comical yesterday when Francona was discussing the team’s trip to Washington for the final exhibition game April 3 and let it slip that every player on the roster “even Beckett’’ would attend the game rather than fly ahead to Boston.

Beckett said last week that he was preparing for the opener. His final start of spring training will come Monday, which would give him an extra day of rest before facing the Yankees at Fenway Park. It’s also fairly obvious that Jon Lester and John Lackey will follow Beckett in the rotation.

Beyond that, it gets fuzzy.

Clay Buchholz, whom the Red Sox hoped would establish himself as a reliable starter, has a 10.80 ERA in three spring starts, allowing 10 hits and six walks over 6 2/3 innings. He next starts Sunday against Minnesota. Francona and Farrell have said Buchholz earned his place with a strong performance at the end of last season. But the poor performance in spring training may be giving them pause.

The 43-year-old Wakefield lost his spot in the rotation over the winter but vowed in February to get it back. A door opened when Daisuke Matsuzaka reported to camp with a sore back and then developed a sore neck.

Wakefield took advantage of the opportunity and has been impressive all spring, throwing 19 2/3 innings despite coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back.

Wakefield said it has been one of the best spring trainings of his career.

“Other than one game results-wise, I think I’ve pitched very well,’’ he said. “I’ve made all my plateaus that I’ve needed to make as far as innings are concerned. There have been no setbacks. I feel great, ready to go.’’

Wakefield was brilliant for five innings against the Marlins yesterday, retiring 14 of the first 18 batters, four by strikeout. The Marlins managed to get only four balls out of the infield.

The knuckleballer tired in the sixth inning, giving up three runs on three hits, including a two-run homer by Dan Uggla.

“To that point, I thought he was really good,’’ Francona said. “Threw strikes. Again, he continues to get ready.’’

But ready for what? Wakefield could be the No. 4 or No. 5 starter, pitching as early as April 9 in Kansas City or not until April 18 against Tampa Bay at home.

“I have no idea,’’ Wakefield said. “I really don’t.’’

Said Francona, “We haven’t laid out the starters. We just don’t know. When we announce something, I want our guys to know and understand why, and we just don’t know yet.’’

The Sox will have to factor Matsuzaka into the equation at some point. The righthander pitched two innings in relief of Wakefield, his first game action of the spring outside of a two-inning minor league intrasquad game Sunday. Matsuzaka threw 17 of his 25 pitches for strikes, but only one fastball reached 90 miles per hour.

He allowed a run on two hits in the seventh inning before retiring the side in order in the eighth. Matsuzaka is scheduled to pitch three innings in relief of Beckett Monday.

“If that was 100 percent, I’d be in trouble,’’ he said via interpreter Masa Hoshino. “But today being my first game, I was thinking about how to approach it and the most important thing for me was to get in that game mind-set.

“Facing an opposing team and facing live hitters out there today, I found myself in that state and that was the most important thing I can take from today.’’

Matsuzaka almost certainly will start the season on the disabled list and may not be ready until the final week of April. For now, the Sox are pleased just to have him on the mound again.

“I thought the biggest good thing was that he got out there and stayed in his delivery,’’ Francona said. “I think you’re going to see more come out of his arm, but I thought it was good.’’

Matsuzaka’s place in the rotation and what that could mean for Wakefield or Buchholz will eventually become an issue. But for now, the pitchers would be happy knowing the rotation for the first few series.

“Everybody’s curious,’’ Buchholz said. “The season is coming.’’

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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