Dice-K steadily working back toward Boston
Recovering right-hander could soon start a rehab assignment
BOSTON -- As thousands of fans streamed along the edges of the field at Fenway Park on Thursday, Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka played long toss in the middle of the outfield. On Friday, he's scheduled to throw a bullpen session at Fenway, and his next step after that could well be a rehab assignment.
If Matsuzaka, who hasn't pitched in a game since May of last year because of Tommy John surgery, can return healthy after building up arm strength in the Minors, he could provide a boost to the big league club.
"Dice-K feels great. He looks great," manager Bobby Valentine said. "And he's ready for competition."
The Sox could send Matsuzaka back to Florida for another extended spring outing, but that's to be determined.
"Yeah, he's healthy and ready to go," said pitching coach Bob McClure, who watched Matsuzaka throw. "So we'll just see as far as whether to have him go one more time in Fort Myers [Fla.] and then go, or just head on out.
"He might be getting a little stale down there [in Florida]. Physically, if he really feels good, he might be getting a little stale."
Matsuzaka's up to about 60 pitches now, and would need to reach the requisite 90 to 100 before a return, McClure said. Velocity comes with arm strength, with Matsuzaka's fastball sitting in the high 80s right now.
"The thing you got to watch out for is any setbacks," McClure said. "If everything goes to schedule as planned, yes, he can be a very, very good impact ... he's not holding back. He's letting everything go, otherwise we wouldn't let him go out."
With rehabbing pitchers Andrew Miller (left hamstring) and Rich Hill (Tommy John surgery) also making progress -- the former could well be ready now, while the latter needs a little more time -- the Red Sox could be faced with some roster decisions.
On Thursday night, Miller made his sixth rehab appearance and fourth with Triple-A Pawtucket, throwing 1 1/3 innings and allowing no runs on one hit while striking out three. He worked around four walks. Overall, Miller has struck out 12 and given up four runs in 6 1/3 innings between Pawtucket and Class A Greenville.
"Got a lot of options here in the next month or so," McClure said. "A lot of decisions come with it. Tough ones and good ones."
With the Boston bullpen shaky and the team off to a 4-8 start, an infusion of arms could help. Valentine said Thursday that the adversity the Red Sox have faced early can be a positive.
"I think they're starting to realize that we're doing things and we're making it happen," Valentine said. "It's all small things. You have to think small victories, as well as the large ones. The small victories go toward our advantage. ... Everything's not perfect, but we only strive for excellence and we don't know what's going to happen.
"If they're just looking at the standings, they're probably seeing the [Los Angeles] Angels are 4-8. If they're just looking at the standings, they see that we have a tough division and it's definitely not going to be decided in April."