Red Sox notebook

Beckett takes another step

Simulated game but real progress

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 7, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The only spectators were a handful of teammates, there was no umpire, and the scoreboard lights were turned off. But Josh Beckett treated his simulated game at Tropicana Field yesterday like it was the real deal.

“For me, it was competition,’’ he said. “It had been a long time. I was trying to pitch like I always pitch.’’

Beckett threw 65 pitches to five minor league prospects and was cleared to pitch for Triple A Pawtucket Sunday. The Opening Day starter, out since mid-May with back pain, could rejoin the Red Sox as early as July 21.

“As far as the light at the end of the tunnel, that’s definitely gotten brighter,’’ Beckett said.

Beckett was scheduled to pitch in a Gulf Coast League game in Sarasota against Baltimore prospects. But when wet conditions canceled that game, the Sox sent five of their GCL players to stand in against him.

Trygg Danforth, Moko Moanaroa, Henry Ramos, Maykol Sanchez, and Luke Yoder broke a few bats as Beckett ran his fastball in on them.

The best swing of the day came from Sanchez, the team’s fifth-round pick in the June draft. He doubled to the gap in right field in the second inning. Other than that, Beckett was perfect.

“I thought he threw the ball really well. I thought he looked strong,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He had a lot of arm speed, which is really good. If he’s got arm speed, he’s going to be just fine.’’

Beckett has been on the disabled list because of back pain since May 19.

“I don’t feel anything any more,’’ he said. “You hate to jinx yourself, I definitely feel like the time off did what it was supposed to do.’’

The plan is for him to make two minor league starts before being activated.

“He had good intensity and stamina throughout. It was another solid step in the right direction,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said. “He’s at the point now where he’s making some of the finer adjustments in terms of location to his pitches. It’s not so much delivery-related, it’s getting the timing back.’’

“With limited pitching in the first half, he would have a lot of innings left, a lot of dominant-type of innings, in the second of the season,’’ Farrell said.

As Beckett pitched, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Jon Lester stood behind the batting cage offering support.

“It’s kind of obvious how those guys look to Beckett,’’ Francona said.

Said Beckett: “That was awesome. That’s the kind of support we have going on here and that’s pretty cool. Not a lot of organizations have stuff like that.’’

Ortiz in Derby
David Ortiz will participate in Monday’s Home Run Derby. He has not been in the contest since finishing fourth in 2006.

Adrian Beltre passed on the opportunity. “I’m just going to watch,’’ he said.

Kevin Youkilis, who left last night’s game with right ankle pain, may be getting closer to making the American League roster. According to Major League Baseball, he moved into the lead in the on-line voting for the final spot.

Youkilis leads Nick Swisher of the Yankees, with Michael Young (Rangers), Paul Konerko (White Sox), and Delmon Young (Twins) trailing.

MLB said that 22 million votes had been cast as of yesterday afternoon. The voting ends at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

Sen. John Kerry sent an e-mail to three million supporters asking them to vote for Youkilis.

“Please don’t let anyone say that Swisher beat Youkilis because Sox fans have gone a little soft after ’04 and ’07. Let’s show we’re still the most ravenous fans in baseball,’’ it said.

Youkilis, who is not registered to vote in Massachusetts, said he appreciated Kerry’s support.

“Whatever it takes,’’ he said.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, formed an unholy alliance with their 1975 World Series foes, the Cincinnati Reds. The “Vote Red’’ campaign has the Sox pushing for Joey Votto in return for the Reds promoting Youkilis, who is a Cincinnati native who played high school and college ball there.

Hermida hungry
Hermida took a full batting practice on the field after Beckett threw. It was the first time he had done that since going on the DL, retroactive to June 10, with five cracked ribs.

“I felt fine,’’ he said. “Everything felt good. I had that one day last week when I felt sore. But I felt OK the next day and we’ve been moving forward quickly ever since.’’

Hermida will take BP for the remainder of the road trip and hopes to start a minor league rehab assignment after the All-Star break.

Return trip?
Jacoby Ellsbury’s sabbatical in Arizona, which is going on five weeks, soon could come to a close. The outfielder could join the team in Toronto over the weekend, according to Francona.

“He may not,’’ the manager said. “But if he’s at the point where he can do the baseball stuff, then he’ll join us.’’

Ellsbury has been away from the team since the first week of June, when he was given permission to do rehab work on two sets of broken ribs at the Athletes’ Performance center in Phoenix, near where he lives.

“He actually threw a little bit,’’ Francona said. “Everything is under a controlled environment, what he’s doing now. But he does feel a lot better, which is good.’’

Bowden to bullpen
In what could be a precursor to his being called up to help the major league team, the Red Sox have shifted Triple A righthander Michael Bowden to the bullpen. The 23-year-old has a 1.83 ERA over his last seven starts, striking out 33 with only eight walks over 44 1/3 innings . . . Pawtucket activated catcher Mark Wagner off the disabled list. He had been out since April with a broken left hand. With the Red Sox short of catchers, Wagner could become a factor.

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