- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Daisuke Matsuzaka said Thursday he will be in Boston for the season opener, but it doesn't mean he will be ready to pitch. Before he rejoins the rotation, the likelihood is that he will need to pitch more before he is activated, whether it's back in Florida or in Pawtucket.
Because in a sense, while the Red Sox are coming to the end of spring training, Matsuzaka is just starting.
Matsuzaka won't be a factor in the Red Sox pitching plans for at least the first couple weeks of the season, manager Terry Francona said Thursday, confirming the obvious. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, meanwhile, solidified his spot in the starting rotation with another strong outing Thursday.
Matsuzaka took another step in the delayed progression Thursday by throwing two innings to major league hitters for the first time since having his spring derailed by back and neck ailments.
He pitched the seventh and eighth innings of the Red Sox's 6-4 victory over the Florida Marlins at City of Palms Park, allowing one earned run. Matsuzaka threw 25 pitches, 17 for strikes, surrendering a two-out RBI triple to Marlins outfielder Cameron Maybin in the seventh before working a 1-2-3 eighth. He had two first-pitch strikes against eight batters.
"He spun a couple breaking balls, threw a couple cutters, couple changeups, but again, it's hard because everyone else has gotten to a certain point and Dice is back at the other point," Francona said. "You just have to remember that."
With Matsuzaka so far behind, the Red Sox pitching plans are starting to come into sharper focus with Opening Day approaching April 4.
Wakefield was excellent through five shutout innings Thursday before running into trouble in a three-run sixth as fatigue set in. After the outing, he said he was unaware of the team's plans for him, which is unusual at this time of spring.
The Red Sox have three days off within the first 10 days of the season, so they likely won't need a fifth starter until April 18. If Wakefield is slotted in the No. 4 slot, he could start on April 9, but he'd likely not pitch until April 18 if he was in the fifth position.
That could be part of what is delaying Francona's decision, as the manager said a few times Thursday he wants to fully explain his decision to pitchers before making the announcement.
Regardless, Wakefield couldn't have done much more this spring to cinch his spot. Thursday was the second time in six starts that Wakefield surrendered runs. He's pitched 19 2/3 innings and his ERA is now 3.66 after scattering six hits and striking out five.
"Other than the one game, results-wise, I thought I've pitched well," Wakefield said. "I've made all the plateaus I need to make as far as innings are concerned. There have been no setbacks. I feel great and ready to go."
Matsuzaka naturally isn't as far along. Told it looked like he was pitching at 70-80 percent strength Thursday, he seemed to agree.
"Yeah, if that was 100 percent I'd be in trouble," said Matsuzaka, whose velocity wasn't at peak levels. "I think the most important thing was being able to get in that game mindset, and facing an opposing team and facing live hitters out there today, I found myself in that state. I think that's the most important thing I can take away from today."
Francona plans to bring Matsuzaka back for three innings on Monday, which is why he was limited to two innings against the Marlins.
"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."
By the time he's ready to contribute, the Red Sox might have a difficult decision to make, but that wouldn't come until mid-April at the earliest.
"At this point, I want to rejoin the rotation as quickly as possible," Matsuzaka said. "I'm training with that as the only thing in my mind. I'm working hard towards that goal."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston and occasionally checks out the Red Sox. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag. ESPNBoston's Red Sox writer Gordon Edes contributed to this report.
Daisuke Matsuzaka won't start season in Red Sox pitching rotation.