Beckett on track for rehab starts

DENVER -- Josh Beckett has progressed to the stage where Red Sox manager Terry Francona is discussing his rehab starts.

Beckett threw 55 pitches in a side session on Wednesday, mixing in his entire repertoire, and came out feeling very good about how his back felt, Francona said. On Saturday in San Francisco, Beckett will simulate the up-and-down of a game -- pitch an inning, sit, pitch another inning -- and is scheduled to face hitters next Thursday on the off-day in Boston.

Assuming all goes well, the manager said, Beckett will be ready to go out on a rehab assignment. That could involve as many as three or four starts, "to be realistic,'' Francona said. "Whatever he needs. We don't want to shortcut it.''

The manager left open the possibility that Beckett could return sooner depending on how he feels, but clearly he won't be back until after the All-Star break.

"We don't want him to pitch in Pawtucket all year if he can do good for us,'' Francona said.

Beckett has been out since slipping on a wet mound in Yankee Stadium on May 18. He was placed on the DL the next day with what the club is calling a lower back strain.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.