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09/30/08 9:42 PM ET

Beckett shows signs of improvement

If all goes well, Red Sox ace will start Game 3 at Fenway Park

ANAHEIM -- The big test will come Thursday, when Red Sox ace Josh Beckett gives his strained right oblique the test of a side session. But he took a smaller test on Tuesday, one that gave manager Terry Francona some enthusiasm that the penciled-in Game 3 start for Beckett in this American League Division Series against the Angels is not a reach.

"Beckett threw starting at 60 feet and made 30 throws," Francona said. "He moved back to 90 and made 20. Then he came back to 60 and the ball came out of his hand real well. Everything was very encouraging. He'll long toss [Wednesday], side day Thursday. Everything was real positive."

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If Beckett hadn't strained the oblique in that side session at Fenway late last week, he would have started Game 1, given his October resume and his ace status.

But the Red Sox continue to hope for the next best thing -- that he'll take the ball on Sunday at Fenway in Game 3.

"Again, I think we think he's going to pitch, and if he doesn't, we couldn't come into a series without being ready, hopefully, for everything," Francona said.

Though the Red Sox won't divulge their plans, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield would seem to be the likely candidate for Game 3 if Beckett can't go.

With all the off-days in this series, Game 1 starter Jon Lester could come back in Game 4 on regular rest, and ditto for Game 2 starter Daisuke Matsuzaka for Game 5.

Beckett is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA during his career in postseason play.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.