Beckett throws pain-free but will skip Red Sox's trip to Japan

Updated: March 16, 2008, 9:27 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Josh Beckett will stay behind when the Red Sox fly 7,500 miles to Tokyo on Wednesday, even though he threw a ball 75 feet without back pain on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJosh Beckett threw Sunday for the first time since hurting his back eight days ago.

Boston manager Terry Francona made official what had been obvious for several days: His ace right-hander won't travel to Japan, where he probably would have started the Red Sox's regular season opener against the Oakland Athletics.

"He's not going to go with us to Japan," Francona said Sunday. "Talked to him this morning about it. He completely understands. ... It's just not the right thing to do."

Baseball's winningest pitcher last season threw Sunday for the first time in eight days since hurting his back. But Beckett might not even join the team in Los Angeles for three exhibition games against the Dodgers on March 28-30.

Pitching coach John Farrell said Beckett felt no discomfort or restrictions in his arm action and his follow through. But Farrell was pessimistic that he would pitch in Boston's third or fourth regular-season games, in Oakland on April 1 and 2. The Red Sox follow those with three games in Toronto, then open their home season April 8 against Detroit.

Farrell said that facing the Athletics in the April series is "probably a little bit too aggressive" of a plan for Beckett to come back from the back spasms he felt on his first warm-up pitch before an exhibition game against Florida on March 8. He was replaced before the game started.

On Sunday, Beckett threw 25 pitches from 60 feet and 10 more from 75 feet on flat ground to Farrell. He also threw 11 warm-up pitches.

"The fact that he feels nothing in there is a clear indication that the inflammation has subsided," Farrell said.

Beckett was not available for comment.

He's scheduled to throw from 90 feet on Monday and play long toss on Tuesday, both on flat ground, then get on the mound for a bullpen session on Thursday.

His teammates will be in Tokyo for exhibition games on Saturday and Sunday against Japanese teams and regular-season games against Oakland on March 25 and 26 before flying to Los Angeles.

"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we'll look to use those games in L.A. to the best of our abilities," Farrell said, adding that it was too early to know whether Beckett would travel there until there was a clearer game schedule.

Beckett could pitch in a minor league game in Florida as he builds up his innings and pitch counts.

When asked if there is a target date for his return to the mound, Francona told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that the Red Sox don't have one yet.

"That target is whenever he is ready to pitch. When you start putting targets on people, that's when you hurt somebody. I guarantee that when he's ready to pitch, he'll be ready. And it won't be a day later," Francona told ESPN.com.

After Sunday's session, Farrell was encouraged, even though Beckett hadn't pitched against a regular major league lineup in spring training. His only two outings were against Boston College and in a "B" game with Minnesota.

"Any time frame for games, it's probably a little too early to tell that," Farrell said, "but I think the most encouraging thing was there was no residual effect or discomfort of any kind.

"One thing about Josh is he's very much in tune with his body. So as good as he felt, he knows that there are steps along the way that we'll look to accomplish. The main thing was, even at 75 feet he felt like he got on it a little bit as far as intensity level."

Beckett started 30 games last year, going 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. In the opener of the Red Sox's sweep of the Rockies in the World Series, he allowed one run and six hits in seven innings of Boston's 13-1 victory.

Notes
Tim Wakefield pitched five perfect innings in a minor league game against Cincinnati's Triple-A Louisville team. It was his first outing since Doug Mirabelli, his personal catcher, was released. Kevin Cash caught Wakefield in the 1-1 tie at Fort Myers. ... Boston's major league squad lost to Pittsburgh 6-3 in Bradenton.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Jayson Stark was used in this report.

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