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Matsuzaka not seen as close

Valentine wary as deadline looms

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / May 17, 2012
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to start for Pawtucket Thursday night in Durham, N.C., and again Tuesday in Norfolk, Va.

That would give the righthander six starts in his minor league rehabilitation assignment, the equivalent of a full spring training. But Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine isn’t sure that will be enough to get Matsuzaka ready.

“I don’t think he’s all that close,’’ said Valentine. “He might be, but I don’t think he is. I don’t think he’s all that close to pitching in the major leagues.’’

Matsuzaka has yet to go beyond 5 1/3 innings in any of his four starts and has struggled with his command at times, running up high pitch counts. The issue, according to Valentine, is making adjustments to his delivery following Tommy John elbow surgery last June 10.

“That’s why I don’t think he’s close,’’ Valentine said. “I’m not sure he’s put his elbow situation behind him yet. I don’t think he totally understands where he is with his elbow, which is very important.’’

Under major league rules, rehabilitation assignments for pitchers can last no more than 30 days. For Matsuzaka, that period would end next Wednesday, a day after his start against Norfolk.

“There has to be something else we can do,’’ Valentine said. “It just means we started it too soon. You can’t say, ‘Hey, the 30-day clock is done. Now the guy has to get into a major league game and get whacked.’ That doesn’t sound right to me.’’

Matsuzaka could defuse the situation by pitching well in his next two starts and proving he’s ready. If not, the Sox will have to figure out some sort of solution.

Youkilis gets going

Kevin Youkilis was the designated hitter for Pawtucket Wednesday night and went 1 for 2. He walked in the first inning, flied to right in the third, and doubled (and scored) in the fifth before he was replaced by a pinch hitter.

He will get a day off today and play third base Friday. The Sox then will determine whether he is ready to come off the disabled list.

Youkilis has not played since April 28 because of a strained lower back. He was hitting .219 when he went on the disabled list.

Bailey cleared to throw

Closer Andrew Bailey has been cleared by his surgeon to start throwing next week. Dr. Thomas Graham examined Bailey in Cleveland Tuesday. The righthander has been out all season after having surgery on a torn thumb ligament.

“Boy, he’s been working,’’ Valentine said. “He’s one of the guys I’m sure we’re going to have to hold him back.’’

Carl Crawford could start swinging a bat again when the team returns from its eight-game road trip. He has been out all season with left wrist and left elbow injuries.

Crawford had an injection of platelet-rich plasma in his elbow April 26 to try to speed the healing of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.

Nava locked in

The Sox were not particularly impressed with Daniel Nava’s outfield play during his 60-game stint in 2010. He appeared tentative at times, even unsure of himself.

But there has been a marked difference this season. Nava is making more athletic plays in the field and on the bases, showing that he is more than just a solid hitter.

“I think from the last time that I was up here until the opportunity I got again, I wanted to make a focused emphasis on being on every pitch,’’ Nava said. “I’m trying to position myself better, trying to pay attention more.’’

Bench coach Tim Bogar has noticed.

“Defensively, he’s improved,’’ said Bogar. “He’s moving around real well. I think he’s more comfortable, so he’s allowing himself to be himself because he’s always been athletic.

“Two years ago, I think he was worried about the wall, a little worried about making a mistake, a little worried about this and that, so he played cautiously. I think we’re actually seeing what he really is.’’

Nava wasn’t satisfied with his performance in 2010 and is glad to be getting another chance.

“I want to leave the impression that I’m playing hard all the time,’’ he said. “Last time I maybe had other things that I wasn’t attentive to such as busting my butt all the time. I’m trying to leave no doubt in that area. I just want to make sure I handle my business the right way.

“It’s confidence and just knowing how to do it the right way.’’

Nava’s improved level of play has left a good impression on Valentine.

“From what I’ve seen, he’s at least an average left fielder in our park and from what I’ve read and heard, that wasn’t necessarily the case [before],’’ the manager said. “I’ve liked what I’ve seen defensively and I’ve liked him on the bases. Not that he’s going to steal bases, but I like his lead, the first movement.

“Right now, he’s in the flow. He’s confident and not thinking about a thing. We’re seeing the best of his abilities without psychological impingements.’’

Nava was on base in 18 of his first 28 plate appearances, scoring seven runs in six games after being called up from Pawtucket. He was in the lineup for the seventh straight game Wednesday.

Hill struck

Rich Hill was struck on the left arm by a ball during batting practice before the game. He left the field to get checked out but was OK. Felix Doubront was hit in the head during batting practice Tuesday. He was checked for a concussion and cleared to start as scheduled Thursday . . . The Rays made a series of roster moves before the game. They obtained outfielder Rich Thompson from the Phillies for outfielder Kyle Hudson and activated Thompson. Outfielder Brandon Guyer was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder strain.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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