FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With three days off in the first 10 days, the traditional approach would have been to use four starters through the first two turns of the rotation, with a fifth starter told that he would not be needed until April 18, two weeks after the start of the season.
But in mapping their pitching plans, Red Sox manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell chose a different route, one that was inclusive for all five starters. Their rationale was grounded in performance and backed by the numbers, but it also took into account the human element, especially the impact on Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz.
"It addressed the factors that we considered starting the season,'' Farrell said Sunday. "We feel strongly that based on what everybody did a year ago, what guys have done in spring training -- and in Wake's case, how he's come back from surgery, how he's busted his tail, he's a veteran, he's been the leader of our team in many different ways -- it was important to get all five guys in the rotation.
"There's a configuration we came up with that allowed all five to be here at the start of the year, yet didn't allow someone to go too long or skip more than one start to begin the year.''
The Sox are opening the season with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey, in that order, facing the Yankees in Fenway Park. Wakefield will pitch the fourth game of the season, in Kansas City on April 9, with Beckett getting a second turn the following night. But in a twist, Buchholz will follow, before the cycle resumes with Lester, Lackey and Wakefield.
"A lot of the attention was centered around Wake and Clay,'' Farrell said, alluding to the perceived competition for a rotation spot that was circumvented, at least for the time being, when Daisuke Matsuzaka was hurt. "And clearly, out of respect to both of them, and knowing they're both going to be a key part of our team and our rotation going forward, we found a way to accommodate all those factors.''
Beckett will have five days between each of his first three starts, a decision that has compelling statistical evidence supporting it. Last season, he was 9-0 with a 2.29 ERA when he started with five days' rest.
"In Josh's case, while the extra day really helps him, when you get two extra days, there's a fine line with him,'' he said. "It may not bear out in the numbers, but from a confidence standpoint, him feeling sharp, him being able to execute pitches consistently, that's where he feels most comfortable. [He] starts to feel uncomfortable on the seventh day, and that's why he comes back around twice, with [Buchholz] inserted on Game 6.''
Buchholz has an option remaining, which means the Sox could have sent him back to the minors without exposing him to waivers and the possibility of another team placing a claim.
But based on the way Buchholz pitched when called up last season, Matsuzaka's injury, and what Buchholz has shown this spring, that doesn't appear to have been given much consideration.
"In [Buchholz's] case, this is a young pitcher we're totally committed to,'' Farrell said. "We feel his learning and continued establishment at the big league level is where it's going to take place. He showed that in 10 starts last year, that he earned the ability to begin the season with us. He's thrown the ball with some inconsistencies in spring training, but he's had a couple of games where he's thrown the ball very well.
"You look at every one of our starters, there's been a start in spring training where you're almost expecting things don't go a certain way, either because of building arm strength or dead-arm period. Everybody goes through that phase at some point.''
Wakefield came into the spring a question mark because of offseason back surgery.
"Any time you end a season with a player going in for surgery, there's always those natural questions that surround the player,'' Farrell said, "compounded by a healing rate that might be a little bit slower for a 43-year-old rather than a 22-year-old.
"But the work he did, from the time he took the mound in spring training right from his first bullpen session right through batting practice, where there was no need for recovery time, we looked upon Wake as this is another year for him. Not like, OK, we have to be conscious of building in an extra day here, two days there. He never requested it, he never needed it.
"That's a testament to the rehab he did in the offseason. Obviously, he's very committed to his profession, this organization, his teammates, and he never was going to leave anything unturned. He knew there was a challenge ahead of him and he had to come on and solidify his spot, and he has done that.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.