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Matsuzaka is set to return

He’ll make first start Saturday

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 7, 2012
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Nearly a year to the day he had Tommy John elbow surgery, Daisuke Matsuzaka will return to the mound for the Red Sox.

The Sox are planning to activate Matsuzaka off the disabled list and start him against the Washington Nationals Saturday afternoon. He had his surgery last June 10.

Matsuzaka will replace Daniel Bard in the rotation. Bard was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket Tuesday.

Matsuzaka made six minor league rehabilitation starts, going 0-3 with a 3.65 earned run average. He totaled 37 innings and gave up 31 hits with nine walks and 30 strikeouts.

As is often the case, Matsuzaka had problems with high pitch counts and at one point had his rehab assignment stopped because of a problem with a neck muscle.

“He says he feels fine,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said after speaking to Matsuzaka. “His arm feels good, his body’s in good shape.’’

Matsuzaka was scheduled to pitch three innings for Pawtucket Tuesday but was pulled in the second inning after 40 pitches.

Matsuzaka last pitched for the Red Sox May 16, 2011. This is the final season of his six-year, $52 million deal.

Matsuzaka was 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA over 61 starts in his first two seasons. He is 16-15, 5.03 since, and has made 44 starts.

Plan for Bard

Bard will report to Pawtucket Thursday and will start Friday against Indianapolis. General manager Ben Cherington said it would be a short stint. The idea is to let Bard work through his issues with shorter, more-frequent trips to the mound.

“Daniel knows what he needs to do to get himself back to being an elite pitcher,’’ Cherington said. “That’s what he’s going to go down to do. When he does that, we think he can pitch in whatever role he’s asked to pitch in.’’

Cherington said Bard’s future role in the majors was not part of recent conversations between the team and the struggling pitcher. It was more about what he needs to do to pitch well again.

“He’s going to go down and get himself on track,’’ Cherington said. “If he’s doing what he needs to do and doing what he’s capable of doing, then he’ll be a part of the conversation as a starter again.

The key for us, in our minds, and in Daniel’s mind, if he’s doing the things that have made him elite in the past, then it just doesn’t matter where he’s asked to pitch, he’ll be fine.’’

Bard was 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA.

Gonzalez drops down

Adrian Gonzalez batted sixth, the lowest he has been in a lineup since 2006. That was his first season with the Padres.

Valentine said the move was designed to balance the lineup against Baltimore lefthander Wei-Yin Chen. But Gonzalez has done little to merit hitting third or fourth.

The first baseman went into the game hitting .262 with a .723 OPS. Gonzalez has 20 doubles, tied for the most in the AL, but only four home runs. He was 1 for 3 with a single Wednesday.

Through Wednesday, Gonzalez was in a 14-of-58 (.241) slump with 10 strikeouts over 14 games.

“Adrian’s a really good hitter,’’ Valentine said. “He hasn’t found that rhythm yet at the plate. He will. He’ll have his numbers. I’m not sure if he’s going outside the strike zone or if he’s too anxious and not waiting for his pitch. He’ll have a walk and a home run in one of these games and I think that will set him off.’’

Progress for Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury, who partially dislocated his left shoulder April 13, has started throwing, swinging a bat, and running. The next step in his return would be starting a rehab assignment. But Cherington said there is no timetable for that.

“He just started swinging this week,’’ the GM said. “We’ve got to let him ramp that up a little and get through a batting progression and all that stuff. We haven’t mapped it out yet but he’s certainly making a lot of progress. He’s hit every checkpoint so far. This is a big step to get a bat in his hands.’’

Carl Crawford could start throwing next week, the next step in his comeback from a strained elbow ligament.

“Hopefully he’s getting closer, he feels good there’s been no reoccurrence of symptoms,’’ Cherington said.

Caught in draft

The Sox are close to signing two of their top draft picks. Righthander Pat Light, the 37th overall pick, was at Fenway Park to complete his deal. Second-round pick Jamie Callahan, also a righthanded pitcher, also is expected to sign soon.

The Sox made their final 25 picks of the draft Wednesday. Their selections included righthander Pat Delano of Braintree High (35th round) and Amherst College outfielder Kevin Heller (40th round). Delano is expected to attend Vanderbilt.

The Sox also selected one of the best high school prospects in the country, outfielder Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, Calif., in the 18th round. The safety is committed to playing football at the University of Washington but is open to playing baseball in the summers and is close to a deal with the Sox.

Thompson is 6 feet 2 inches, 225 pounds and has excellent speed. He is relatively inexperienced at baseball but selected Washington, in part, because the football coaching staff agreed to let him play both sports.

“I’m definitely playing football at Washington, but I’ll report to baseball first,’’ Thompson told the Sacramento Bee. “I think this is great. I’m surprised. I thought I might get drafted, but much later.’’

Vanderbilt junior outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Carl Yastrzemski, went to Seattle in the 30th round. The Sox drafted Yastrzemski out of St. John’s Prep in Andover in 2009.

On the mike

Former Channel 4 sportscaster Bob Lobel was the latest guest to handle the public address duties . . . One of Valentine’s mentors, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, is resting comfortably after suffering a mild heart attack Monday in New York. Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB vice president Joe Torre were among those who detected something wrong and helped get Lasorda to a hospital. “He’s doing OK,’’ said Valentine, who has spoken to Lasorda . . . Rookie Will Middlebrooks went 2 for 4 and has an eight-game hitting streak.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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