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01/27/10 12:05 PM EST

Odd man out? Not in Wakefield's mind

Veteran knuckleballer plans to start for Red Sox this season

BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield might be 43 years old and coming off back surgery, but he has no plans to play a token role for the 2010 Red Sox. The veteran knuckleballer's competitive fire is still strong, and he feels that he has a lot to offer.

Though the signing of John Lackey has created a potential logjam in the rotation -- the Sox have six proven starters for five slots -- Wakefield doesn't think his spot should be in jeopardy. Nor does he think the recovery from surgery will prevent him from being ready at the start of the season.

Wakefield spoke to reporters Tuesday night in New York, where he received the Bart Giamatti Award for community service.

"It seems to be that way every year -- they stack up on pitching, but it works out," said Wakefield. "I think I've earned the right to be one of the five starters. Thankfully, my rehab and surgery went well, and I'll be healthy for the 2010 season."

There was no hesitation from Wakefield when asked if he would be ready for the start of the season.

"In my mind, 100 percent," Wakefield said. "I feel like I'm going to be one of the five starters and I think a lot of questions were answered [Monday]. I went up to Boston and met with the doctors and met with our trainers. The testing that they did, they were pleasantly surprised where my strength had come back [to], almost 100 percent. I look forward to getting into Spring Training 100 percent and ready to go."

The surgery took place shortly after the Red Sox were knocked out of the American League Division Series by the Angels, and Wakefield has done everything in his power to make a full recovery.

"Obviously I was in rehab five days a week, an hour and a half a day, trying to bust my butt to get back to any type of normalcy," Wakefield said. "I started back in my normal routine three days a week, mixed in with some rehab here and there, and my offseason throwing program has not been hindered by any means by my back or anything else in my legs. I look forward to a full recovery when I get to Spring Training."

In addition to Lackey, the Boston rotation also has Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Wakefield. While Wakefield spent a good bit of time as a reliever under past managerial regimes during his 15 seasons in Boston, he has been used almost exclusively as a starter since manager Terry Francona took over in 2004.

When Francona spoke at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner two weeks ago, he didn't sound like he was envisioning Wakefield in the bullpen. That said, there will be a decision to make at some point if all the starters get through camp healthy.

"I haven't thought about that a lot -- he's a starter," Francona said. "I think what we need to do is ... for the last three or four years, we haven't had him at the end of the year. It's probably hard for Wake to understand. He sees us signing guys and probably that's a normal human reaction. What we're trying to do is have our guys stay healthy and productive. You hear us say that all the time, all year. I think this is the best way we can do that. How that slots out, we really don't know yet."

Wakefield is hopeful that once the dust settles, he will emerge as part of Boston's rotation.

"I don't know. We'll see when we get there, but I plan on being one of the five starters," Wakefield said. "I think I've earned that."

With 175 wins in a Boston uniform, Wakefield needs 18 more to surpass Cy Young and Roger Clemens for the most victories in Red Sox history. He is 11 wins shy of 200 for his career. Wakefield is under contract through 2011.

"I plan on being one of the [Red Sox's] five starters. I think I've earned that."
-- Tim Wakefield

Never one to put the cart before the horse, Francona will make a decision on the rotation once it is time to make one. Each year, the Red Sox get seven or eight pitchers ready to start during Spring Training. This spring will be no exception.

"We're just going to get him ready," Francona said of Wakefield. "We'll get all our guys ready and then we'll figure out where guys go and when they go, how they go. I think that's the best way to do it. Starting to put roles on guys in January, I don't know if that's going to work."

Wakefield, who came to Boston in 1995, is the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox. He has been part of nine postseason teams during that span and is confident that the 2010 squad will be another formidable entry.

"I think we did a great job [this winter]," Wakefield said. "Obviously the biggest loss is Jason Bay going to the Mets, not only as a player, but as a teammate. I really valued his professionalism and his opinion as a teammate.

"The organization did a great job filling those holes by getting Mike Cameron. With Dice-K being out, we felt like we needed a deeper rotation to go along with our bullpen. Signing John Lackey obviously filled a huge hole there, and having Adrian Beltre playing third base -- it's unfortunate Mikey had to have surgery on his thumb, but I look forward to him being back 100 percent by the time we get to Spring Training and we'll see how that plays out, too."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Bryan Hoch contributed to this report from New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.