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03/25/10 6:20 PM ET

Wake stretched out; Dice-K starts up

Knuckler feels great while Japanese righty playing catch-up

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While Tim Wakefield was getting stretched out, Daisuke Matsuzaka was just getting started.

Two starting pitchers who should play significant roles for the 2010 Red Sox had entirely different objectives on Thursday afternoon against the Marlins.

Wakefield, the veteran knuckleballer, was simply looking to put the finishing touches on what has already been a productive spring, and he did just that, twirling six strong inning, scattering six hits and three runs while walking two and striking out five. The 43-year-old righty threw 73 pitches, 51 for strikes.

"Physically, I felt great," Wakefield said. "I think I had a little more energy in my last start. For some reason, today, I just got tired in the last inning. I didn't have the sharpness of my knuckleball entering the sixth. Other than that, I feel great and I look forward to starting the season."

Dice-K? This was his first appearance in a Grapefruit League contest, thanks to a sore back that slowed him at the start of camp and put him in a steady mode of catch-up. Matsuzaka gave up two hits and one run over two frames, issuing no walks or strikeouts in a 25-pitch performance.

"I thought he was really good," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He threw strikes. Again, he continues to get ready. I thought he did good. I thought he got real tired at the end, which again is OK. Six ups and downs is a lot."

As for Matsuzaka, the Red Sox were just happy to at last get him back on a normal progression of pitching in games. He will go again on three days' rest on Monday against the Rays at 7:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV, when he pitches three innings in relief of ace Josh Beckett.

"I thought the biggest good thing was that he got out there and he stayed in his delivery," said Francona. "I think you're going to see more come out of his arm, I certainly believe. But I thought it was good. He spun a couple of breaking balls, threw a couple of cutters and a couple of changeups. Again, it's hard, because everyone else has gotten to a certain point and Dice is back at the other point, so we just have to remember that."

Matsuzaka will miss at least the first couple of weeks of the regular season, as the Red Sox like to get all their pitchers up to about 25 innings in Spring Training before they start the season. Including Sunday's outing in a Minor League intrasquad game, Matsuzaka is at four innings.

But the righty seemed to make peace a while ago with the fact he was going to be on a different schedule than his teammates. Now, he simply wants to make sure he's ready to be effective once the lights do come on for him.

"At this point, I want to rejoin the rotation as quickly as possible," Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I'm training with that as the only thing in my mind, and I'm working hard toward that goal. Also, I'm not feeling any stress right now."

Wakefield isn't feeling much stress either. That back surgery he had back in October has had no impact whatsoever on his spring. He breezed through his first five innings on Thursday before getting hit around for three runs in the sixth.

"He's been very consistent," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "The last three times out, we're seeing the quality extend by one inning, which is ideal when it comes to Spring Training. Wake is very predictable in that way. What he's doing, the progress that he's going through to prepare and get ready for the start of the season is very consistent with the last three years here. The action to his knuckleball continues to get more sharp with each outing."

The only thing Wakefield still doesn't know is exactly when he will pitch in a regular-season game. The Red Sox have a very unique schedule in which they have three off-days before they play their eighth game of the season.

Though there have been no announcements from Francona just yet, it seems likely that Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey will pitch in the Opening Series three-game set against the Yankees. The question is at what juncture Wakefield and Clay Buchholz are slotted into the rotation.

Barring rainouts, the Red Sox don't have a necessity for a fifth starter until April 18.

"I'm very curious, not knowing," said Wakefield. "Normally, I kind of know what's going on. I think they have some decisions to make. We'll see what happens."

Francona and Farrell should settle on a plan in the near future. Opening Night is on April 4 at Fenway Park against the Yankees at 8:05 ET.

"We are fortunate to have five healthy and very good starting pitchers," said Farrell. "We have not arrived at that final decision and there is ongoing dialogue from within. Out of respect to Wake and everybody else in the organization, they'll be met with individually and given those thoughts in due time and a very short amount of time here upcoming knowing we've got 10 days before we open up."

As for Matsuzaka, he remains a work in progress.

"He wasn't as powerful today as he showed in the Minor League game, but this is basically the start of Spring Training for Daisuke," said Farrell. "You're going to see the ebbs and flows to arm strength and action to stuff. Again, we've talked at length that we aren't going to skip any steps along the way in building that foundation, and a two-inning stint is what everybody started at and we'll build progressively."

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