Manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell chatted with Justin Masterson this morning about his role for the season, which is still undecided, and his upcoming schedule, which is. Masterson will start in a minor league game Thursday and throw five innings, a decision made after Masterson's minor league start Saturday, which could have been his final start of the spring. The Red Sox still want to keep Masterson on a starter's schedule for now, but they have yet to decide officially if he'll begin the year as a starter or a reliever.
As has been the case all spring, the way the staff is constituted suggests Masterson will be a reliever, but there's got to be a reason the Sox haven't made any final decisions. One guess is, Brad Penny's start today, and his subsequent ones, will dictate what happens with Masterson. If Penny comes out throwing 95 and looking the pitcher who earned the right start last year's Opening Day with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then he'll probably become the starter. If he comes out and looks sluggish, throwing with his upper body and hesitant to test his shoulder, the Red Sox will keep Masterson ready to start make it a decision between him and Clay Buchholz, whose spring has been outstanding. That's all speculative. Keep in mind that Francona is confident in Masterson's ability to move easily and quickly from being stretched out like a starter to preparing for a bullpen role. Also, Masterson's attitude about the whole thing has been typically upbeat.
Otherwise, Jon Lester will pitch a minor league game tomorrow, while Tim Wakefield will pitch tomorrow night in Tampa against the Yankees. On Wednesday, Buchholz will start in Sarasota against the Reds, and John Smoltz will throw off a mound for the first time.
Soon, the Red Sox will integrate Daisuke Matsuzaka into their schedule. His work in the World Baseball Classic is done after he threw 98 pitches last night. The tournament ends tonight with a Japan-Korea final, but the Sox aren't positive when Matsuzaka will arrive in camp. Once he returns, his preparation for the season will be unique. He's been on a strange spring schedule, pitching about once a week while compiling high pitch counts. The Red Sox will try to ease back while allowing him to prepare for the season.
"We have a loose schedule," Francona said. "We have a couple different ideas for him when he gets back. And then we'll kind of go from there. He didn't have a regular schedule. He had kind of a weekly schedule. It's not the way we woudl escalate it on a normal progression. As soon as he gets back, we'll sit with him and try to figure out the best way to determine how to go."
Francona was relieved that Matsuzaka had come through the WBC without injury, but he remains concerned about the wear of Matsuzaka's early schedule. Matsuzaka pitched 14 2/3 innings over three starts.
"It's a lot to ask," Francona said. "It's just the way it is. You hope during the season, you don't pay the price for that."