PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - With John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz, and Michael Bowden looming, the Red Sox may have enough arms to give their starting pitchers a break, a luxury few teams possess. Perhaps no starter would be better served by a scheduled rest than Tim Wakefield.
Wakefield - who allowed four runs (two earned) in three innings today against the Rays in his third appearance of the spring - has pitched with a small tear in the labrum of his right shoulder for two years. His production has remained steady throughout the season but, owing to fatigue, it evaporated in the playoffs.
If all goes to plan, the Red Sox will be able to conserve Wakefield because of their starting depth.
"It's a great backup to have if we need a spot start to give somebody a breather," Wakefield said. "Last year, I don't think we had those options."
Wakefield, 42, offered only one solution to healing his shoulder for good: surgery.
"That's probably it," he said. "And I don't want to have it. At this point, if I have labrum surgery, I miss a whole year. Just got to maintain my strength."
Maintaining his strength last season became untenable. Buchholz struggled, Justin Masterson became a reliever, and Josh Beckett spent time on the disabled list. Plus, Wakefield produced a string of quality starts and didn't want to stop.
"I just had to keep pitching," Wakefield said. "I was feeling good at that time. I was on such a good run, it's hard to sit down."
Preserving Wakefield for October this season may hinge on sitting him down. In the past two regular seasons, Wakefield went 27-23 with a 4.45 ERA; in the playoffs, he went 0-2 with a 12.27 ERA.
"Wake is the one guy who probably hasn't gotten that break built in," said manager Terry Francona. "And at the end of the season, we've lost him both years.
"What you want to do and what you're able to do aren't always the same thing. But we would like him healthy the whole year."
Wakefield threw 49 pitches Saturday in a sloppy, 15-7 loss to the Rays, his highest total of the spring. He allowed just two hits, striking out three and walking one.
"I felt a little better than the last outing," he said. "Timing seems to be better. I'd like to have better results. I got a lot of swings and misses, which is good.
"I got my pitch count back up where it needs to be. I feel confident. Move on from there."
"Little shaky in the first inning," Francona said. "It was OK. Threw a couple good breaking balls, left a few over the plate in the first inning or two. Again, it's spring training. You don't have the luxury of missing your spots, because the game is on television."
Francona will face a new challenge when Matsuzaka arrives in camp, which will happen when Japan is eliminated. The Red Sox will have to devise a throwing schedule that will allow Matsuzaka to prepare for the season without wearing him down.
"We'll see where he's at," Francona said. "If they go all the way, he'll be at 110 [pitches], which is a lot for March 24.
"Everything is different. We've never gone through that before, so we'll handle it when the time comes and do the best thing."
Lugo, competing with Jed Lowrie for the starting shortstop position, added muscle this offseason and has slightly altered his batting stance. The changes, the Red Sox hope, will help him recapture his power.
"Talking to [hitting coach Dave Magadan], he thinks we may see that more this year," Francona said.
Lugo, said the manager, is "a little more upright in his stance, and he does seem to be a little bit stronger. Haven't witnessed it yet down here. That doesn't mean it isn't going to happen."
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org