ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Josh Beckett threw fastballs (30). He threw curves (17), cutters (8) and splitters (10), too. He threw 65 pitches in all -- 64, according to Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. His velocity sat at around 92 miles an hour, topping out at 93, according to one gun.
And best of all, as he worked four innings of a simulated game, he felt no pain. No pain in his lower back, which sent him to the disabled list in the first place when he slipped on a wet mound in Yankee Stadium in late May. No pain in the back of his shoulder (the latissimus dorsi muscle), which he aggravated and set him back further.
Understandable, then, that when Beckett came off the mound following this exercise against five batters imported from Fort Myers and the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, there were fist bumps all around: for Farrell, trainer Mike Reinold, the other members of the Red Sox starting rotation who showed up to watch, even for Dustin Pedroia, who was playing catch from a folding chair.
At last, Beckett can envision his return to the Red Sox. It has been a long time coming.
"I definitely see light at the end of the tunnel now," Beckett told reporters afterward.
Beckett will make a start Sunday afternoon in Pawtucket for the Triple-A PawSox, Boston manager Terry Francona said. The plan will be for him to throw 65 to 70 pitches. He will need a minimum of three rehab starts, the manager said. Generally, the progression would be for Beckett to follow his start in Pawtucket by stretching out to 80-85 pitches, then advance to 90-100 pitches, but the Red Sox may elect to accelerate that schedule.
"When he's ready to pitch we'd like him to pitch for us," Francona said. "But not till he's ready."
Beckett told reporters he felt his command was better than it had been in his simulated game in Fenway Park last Thursday, and his velocity was about the same.
"I felt like I had good stuff today. That's what we're trying to get to," he told reporters.
Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz all stood behind the batting cage, while GCL rookies Maykol Sanchez, Henry Ramos, Moko Moanaroa (for that lyrical name alone, you hope he gets to the big leagues), Luke Yoder and Trygg Danforth took their hacks against Beckett.
Francona liked the show of support. So did Beckett.
"It's awesome," he said. "That's the kind of support we have going on here. That's pretty cool, that each and every one of the starters stopped by for one or two innings. They had stuff to do, but they were out there watching me."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.