FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While newcomer John Lackey continued to cement his place in the Red Sox rotation with a dominant performance Wednesday against the New York Mets, Daisuke Matsuzaka was on a back field throwing to a couple of minor-league hitters.
Matsuzaka’s batting practice exercise wasn’t televised back to Boston as part of the annual Wearing of the Green for St. Patrick’s Day, but it was closely inspected nonetheless by a watchful gallery that included Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell.
It was the Japanese right-hander’s first appearance this spring with a hitter in the batter’s box, a bit late for this time of spring training inasmuch as the other Red Sox starters are on their third game starts this week. But after back and neck issues that have put him behind his peers, both the pitcher and his employers expressed satisfaction that he’d reached this stage.
“The only way to go from here is forward,’’ Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino, “so I’m not going to spend too much time looking over my shoulder. I feel I can get over these frustrations as we move forward.’’
“No issues, no restrictions,’’ Farrell said.
Matsuzaka said he had apprehensions about feeling discomfort in the neck or back, but said he was able to throw normally.
“I think I had good life on my fastball, and I was happy that I had good life and command on my breaking balls, although there is some work that needs to be done right there,’’ Matsuzaka said. “If there was one thing, since it was my first time facing live batters, I didn’t pitch inside, but that’s something to work on going forward.’’
Going forward, Farrell said, Matsuzaka will throw a bullpen session on Friday, then two innings of a minor-league game Sunday, assuming there are no setbacks.
“We don’t want to skip any steps along the way here,’’ Farrell said. “We want to be sure he has ample time and we provide him ample time to build a foundation that’s going to endure an entire season.
“Every progressive step is a positive one, one that you can build upon -- increased pitches, increased innings. Today was an important one to at least see a hitter in there, to get feedback on how his pitches are acting and to see a batter standing in the box.’’
Matsuzaka almost assuredly will be delayed starting the season, as the Red Sox like for their starters to log around 25 innings in exhibition play and there is no way Matsuzaka will reach that number before the end of camp.