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Dice-K will start opener; Lester in Game 2

Posted by Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff  March 17, 2008 11:02 AM

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona today announced his starting pitchers for the two regular season-opening games in Japan next week: Daisuke Matsuzaka gets the nod on Opening Day in his home country, and Jon Lester will start Game 2.

"I think that will be a ton of excitement," Francona said before today's exhibition game against the New York Yankees. "I know [Daisuke is] honored."

The Red Sox will travel to Japan on Wednesday and will face the As in Tokyo next Tuesday and Wednesday. Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield will be on the hill for exhibition games in Japan prior to the regular-season contests.

Francona said that Matsuzaka, who returned to camp today after the birth of his son, and Lester would most likely start the third and fourth games of the season back in the States, in Oakland on April 1 and 2. It would stand to reason, then, that Buchholz and Wakefield would get the nod for the first two games in Toronto after the Oakland series, on April 4 and 5.

"Those four guys have pretty much known that for probably a week," Francona said. "Again, just because of Daisuke's situation. I don't want to say it was in limbo because Daisuke was prepared to pitch. There's just proper ways to do things. He went home, and things kind of broke anyway. He was all set to go."

The Red Sox opted not to move up Wakefield to face the A's in Japan.

"If you just go on deserving, and wins, losses, [Wakefield is] the guy that goes in there," Francona said. "I think we kind of fought the urge just because when he's not in our rotation we're not as good a team. We want him to make his 30 starts."

Where does Josh Beckett (sore back) fit in? That's still to be determined, but Francona said his ace had another good day today in his recovery. The Sox skipper said Beckett threw from 120 feet today.

"Another good day," Francona said. "So probably he's going to come along fairly quickly."

Beckett could pitch in minor league games in Florida. It's not known when he will make his first regular-season start.

"It's all according to how he feels," Francona said. "To do anything differently would be silly on my part. He's going to go as fast as he can, we know that."

Outfielders Coco Crisp (groin) and Bobby Kielty (right calf) were scheduled to play in minor league games Monday.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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