FORT MYERS, Fla. - Though the Red Sox are still stopping short of saying Josh Beckett will not pitch the season opener in Tokyo, it looks increasingly likely that the ace will miss the two games there.
Beckett did say that he was feeling better yesterday than he was Monday when, after a bad night's sleep, he conducted a disgruntled interview with the media. "I got a good night's sleep," he said yesterday.
But Beckett, whose MRI ruled out a problem with a disk, remains far from ready for a regular-season start, especially considering the progression he normally would take in spring training. He has not yet pitched to major league hitters in an A game, facing Boston College Feb. 28 and the Twins in a B game March 3. He has not gone beyond three innings, pitching that many (and striking out five) against Minnesota.
Beckett hurt his back Saturday, and is not close enough to baseball activity to set a return date, so that would seem to preclude him from making a start March 25, which is less than two weeks away. And that doesn't include the approximately 17 hours of flying between Fort Myers and Tokyo, something that hardly would be easy on a problematic lower back.
"I don't know that we would want to eliminate it today because we don't have to," manager Terry Francona said. "The one thing we're not going to do is send him over there to pitch three innings and hurt his back. Just like everything, it depends on how they're doing health-wise. He actually is having a pretty good day today.
"We just want him to be healthy for the long haul. Last year when he had that avulsion, we didn't run him out there when we probably could have because we didn't think it made sense. So in something like this, we'll do the same thing. We'll use good judgment. It's not always easy to use good judgment, but that's the right thing to do."
If Beckett is unable to pitch in Japan, it seems likely Jon Lester would be the first choice to replace him. That leaves Beckett potentially shooting for the April 1-2 series against Oakland, or the series against Toronto April 4-6. That would give him an additional week to week and a half to recuperate.
"He had a pretty tough night the night before," said Francona. "He's moving around there. Again, he's not ready to go out and pitch, but I think it's starting to relax a little bit, which is good. We need to calm that thing down a little bit."
While Daisuke Matsuzaka has been quite circumspect in his comments to the American and Japanese media regarding the impending birth of his second child, his wife, Tomoyo, hasn't had the same qualms.
Matsuzaka did relent Monday, telling Japanese reporters that his wife was ready to give birth any day and that he had made arrangements to head back to Boston at a moment's notice. But that pales in comparison to the information Tomoyo offered on her blog last Thursday.
"I had a tour of the hospital where I will be giving birth this week," Tomoyo wrote, as translated by Globe graphic designer Daigo Fujiwara. "Office of my OBGYN and hospital where I will give birth is, while the same hospital, physically in different locations. It was comforting to see, for the first time, the room where I will give birth and stay for a couple nights after.
"Last time, I gave birth in a Japanese tatami-style room on a futon with help of a midwife. I will be giving birth American style, with pain relief, this time, so I was a bit nervous.
"But seeing the room - and to see the room is rather normal and with a regular bed, unlike an operation room - I was relieved. Conveniently, the meals, chosen from a menu, will be delivered to the room like a room service. But a thought of my family enjoying a meal while I suffer contraction is not a pleasant one."
Jonathan Papelbon continued working on his slider in two scoreless innings of yesterday's 4-3 win over the Mets, which snapped a seven-game winless streak for the Red Sox. Papelbon didn't allow a hit and struck out two, while continuing to modify the slider that he is returning to his repertoire. Papelbon used to throw the pitch, back when he was starting, but he has worked on refining it this spring. "I threw it well today. I threw it a lot today, even in to some lefthanders," Papelbon said. "It's just a matter of getting to the point where I can throw it any pitch, any count, any situation. I think it will be there by the time spring training unfolds and I think I'll go into the season as a three-pitch closer." Papelbon said the pitch could significantly improve his effectiveness, potentially helping with his pitch count as well. He said there were situations last season in which he could have used the slider. "Like, lefthanders is a perfect example," Papelbon said. "They know I'm going to throw them fastball-split. So a lefthander can take that split-finger and, as soon as he sees it, he can just slap it or fight it off and hunt for the heater. Well, now, if he just hunts for the heater, I can go in and the slider looks like a heater, then it moves down in on a back foot or something like that. There were so many situations where I'm out there and I'm saying, 'God, if I had this slider, he'd be done.' "
Hurting for answers
Francona said it's still not known whether Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo will make the trip to Japan. Crisp spent yesterday morning working with trainers and still hasn't been out on the field. Lugo did some flips in the batting cage yesterday, though Francona said the team wanted to make sure he wasn't getting ahead of himself, as he set himself back earlier in his recovery from the back injury. "We certainly can't expect guys to play if they haven't played here, that doesn't make sense," Francona said . . . Dustin Pedroia came down with flu-like symptoms, Francona reported, before joking, "I think the little rat might have ate some arsenic." He will not play today . . . Bobby Kielty has a sore calf, which kept him out of Monday's game . . . David Ortiz took yesterday as a "work day," concentrating on conditioning and strengthening for his knee, rather than playing . . . While the Red Sox flew to Vero Beach Sunday, then again to Port St. Lucie Monday, the Mets took a bus that left at 7:15 a.m. to get to Fort Myers yesterday. That was one reason Pedro Martínez chose not to pitch yesterday, which would have been his scheduled day. He pitched a simulated game instead.
Andy Marte, who went from Atlanta to Boston to Cleveland in the Edgar Renteria and Crisp deals, is out of options, so it looks as if he might make the Indians as a backup infielder . . . After going up two games to none for the Mayor's Cup, the Red Sox find themselves in a winner-take-all situation today at Hammond Stadium. "[It's] a big day," Francona said. "A big day in Fort Myers. We were thinking about taking Pap out early and saving him. We'll try to sleep tonight."
Gordon Edes and Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report.