Lester hopeful for strong Beckett return

7/17/2010 - MLB Boston Red Sox

BOSTON -- Josh Beckett makes his second rehab start Saturday night in Syracuse, and barring a setback, is expected to rejoin the Red Sox sometime during their 10-game West Coast swing. Beckett is scheduled to throw 75 to 80 pitches, and will either need one more rehab start or start for the Sox as soon as Thursday in Seattle.

Beckett has not pitched for the Sox since slipping on a wet mound in Yankee Stadium on May 18 and straining a back muscle, but he was ineffective before then, going 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA in eight starts. He was awful in his last five starts, in which opponents scored 29 runs in 27 innings and hit .319 BA/.409 OBP/.549 SLG against him, with 36 hits and 14 walks.

Given his track record, that would suggest physical issues, though Beckett did not cite any as a reason for his struggles.

Teammate Jon Lester, who is scheduled to pitch Sunday afternoon, is confident of a return to form for Beckett, who on April 5 came to terms on a four-year, $68 million contract extension. Beckett may hold the key to whether the Sox can stay in contention with the Yankees and Rays in the season's second half.

"I'm pretty confident,'' Lester said this week. "I think he's going to come back and be good. I think early on, he probably had some nagging stuff that kind of threw him out of whack. He tried to compensate by changing his delivery a little bit, and that got him more hurt.

"He did the right thing by taking this slow. We need him for the next five years, not necessarily just this year. You don't want to run him out there and have him get hurt like a [Jake] Peavy, where he's out 'til next spring training. Now he's got to rehab next year and you don't know when you're going to get him back.

"He did the right thing -- shut it down, we'll figure out a way to get through this without you, we'll have some guys step up, then when you come back, it's just icing on the cake.''

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.