Team can afford not to rush Matsuzaka

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There is an "outside chance" Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka could be ready when the regular season begins on April 4, according to pitching coach John Farrell, but management will not rush his progress and risk a setback.

Farrell said if Matsuzaka is not ready for the first week of April, it won't be too long after that, as long as he continues to progress.

The right-hander tossed his first bullpen session since Feb. 12 on Friday morning at City of Palms Park with Farrell and manager Terry Francona looking on. Everyone was pleased with the session, especially given the fact he began spring training with back stiffness.

Matsuzaka played long toss at 200 feet before he started the session with bullpen catcher Mani Martinez standing upright for the majority of it. The catcher got into the crouch position for the last 10 pitches, which were all fastballs. Matsuzaka said he had good command and good feel on his pitches.

He's scheduled to throw another bullpen on Sunday. His intensity and volume has been increasing slowly and has had no problems getting loose. Farrell was encouraged by the pitcher's comments after the session was over.

"Not just today, but I think this whole time that I've gotten back to throwing, I've felt great," Matsuzaka said.

With three off days in the first week and a half of the regular season, the Red Sox can afford not to rush Matsuzaka back.

"We're not putting any time frame on this," Farrell said. "We're certainly factoring in Daisuke's feedback and thoughts and how he's progressing on this. We're not pinned to a calendar. We're listening to his body and at this point everything has been encouraging."

Before getting into a game this spring, Matsuzaka will throw a live batting practice session, just like all the other pitchers have already done. The Red Sox will not take any shortcuts with him during camp and have no timetable for when he will pitch in a Grapefruit League game.

"Not at this point," Farrell said. "We're taking this pretty much step by step. Every step has been a positive one, and the fact that he's recovering and bouncing back is a testament to the work he put himself through this offseason. Barring the initial setback, or interruption, he's responded very favorably to each outing."

Ideally the Red Sox would like to get each of their starters 25 innings of work during spring training in preparation for the regular season. The number of innings Matsuzaka will be able to throw this spring will be determined by his health.

Even if Matsuzaka believes he's healthy and wants game action, he'll wait for the go-ahead from management.

"That's not really my decision," Matsuzaka said, "so I'm just going to keep on throwing and try to communicate well with the manager and the coaches and see what they decide."

After a horrible 2009, most of which he spent on the disabled list because of shoulder issues, the Red Sox asked Matsuzaka to train during the offseason at Athletes' Performance in Arizona. The reports the Red Sox were receiving during the winter were all positive until Matsuzaka felt tightness in his back when camp started.

"I think whatever has happened is ultimately my responsibility," Matsuzaka said, "and it might be the case that I won't be ready quite for Opening Day, but my goal will always be to get ready as quickly as possible."

However, he didn't rule out the possibility.

"I think we'll just have to see how it goes," Matsuzaka said. "If I can stay on track, then maybe, but it's tough to say."

Watching Matsuzaka on Friday, it appeared he's tweaked his delivery a bit. Farrell explained that Matsuzaka's delivery this spring is similar to what it was during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, when he combined for a 33-15 record.

"The delivery he's using right now, or showing us, is much more consistent with that of '07 and '08," said Farrell. "I think that's large in part to his core strength, and the body control that he's repeating. Last year there were some inconsistencies. The body wasn't quite where we've seen it before. Going back to the commitment he's made during the offseason, this is a very natural delivery for him that he's throwing with right now."

Matsuzaka believes it's better than that.

"I think for me ... I might even be even better then I was back then," Matuzaka said.

There were times last season when Matsuzaka and the Red Sox were at odds on a number of issues, including a lack of communication on the pitcher's part. The dialogue the two sides have had this spring has been very positive, according to Farrell.

"His communication with us has been very good," Farrell said. "Again, enough can't be said about the amount of work he did during the offseason."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.