Beckett feeling his best since injury

BOSTON -- Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett says he's 100 percent healthy and ready to return to the starting rotation.

Before that can happen, the right-hander will make at least one more rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday at Syracuse. Beckett, who has been on the disabled list with a lower-back strain since May 19, tossed a side session Wednesday at Fenway Park and said he felt great.

"It's as good as I've felt in six to eight weeks," he said. "To come in the day after I pitch and know I can play catch and not have to worry about limitations."

Not only is he close to being activated, but when he returns Beckett believes he'll be able to contribute for the rest of the season.

"It's real important to me," he said. "It's tough to sit in that training room for six weeks and watch guys go down with you, it's tough. We've held our own with the things we've had going on."

Beckett made his first minor-league rehab start last Sunday for Triple-A Pawtucket and worked four innings, allowing only two hits, including a home run, with four strikeouts. He would not talk to the media after that game, saying he would wait until after the All-Star break to talk.

"It went good and everything feels good," Beckett said Thursday afternoon. "We're on the building-up stage now."

"I'm not trying to take it slow, we're trying to accelerate the best we can," Beckett added. "It's basically like spring training. You can't go too fast or you'll end up going backwards."

Beckett wasn't happy with his curveball on Sunday at Pawtucket so he was throwing more sliders and cutters.

"There was a chance I could have gone five innings the other day, but it didn't end up happening," he said. "I wasn't disappointed with the way I pitched, or that I didn't go five innings, but that would have been nice to have under my belt to go into my next [start] with a little more firm feeling that this could be my last one."

More importantly, Beckett felt good the following day and that was a good sign.

The Red Sox will wait until after his next rehab start to decide the next course of action.

"If he's ready to come back and pitch for us, he will," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "If he's not, we'll let him have another one. The plan is to have him throw 85 pitches [Saturday] and if all goes terrific, he can come back and take his slot with us. If we all feel like he needs another [rehab] then he'll do that. We want to evaluate after he pitches."

Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre had an MRI on his sore left hamstring and Francona said the preliminary findings were "pretty good" but decided to hold him out of the starting lineup against the Texas Rangers on Thursday night at Fenway Park. Francona replaced Beltre with Bill Hall at third base for Thursday's four-game series opener.

"I wasn't real comfortable playing him tonight," Francona said. "Hopefully, he'll go out, move around, maybe be available to pinch-hit, play [Friday], that would be, for me, best case. I just think with the travel, I just didn't have a real good feeling running him out there. Just knowing the way he plays, I didn't want him hurting himself."

Beltre said he felt a cramp in his left hamstring that forced him from Sunday's game in Toronto. He was scratched from Tuesday's All-Star Game, replaced by Rangers infielder Michael Young. General manager Theo Epstein said on Wednesday he didn't anticipate Beltre winding up on the disabled list.

Victor Martinez told Francona that his left thumb is "feeling a little bit better" and he is getting an exam on Thursday night.

Dustin Pedroia will get his broken left foot looked at Friday and Jason Varitek will have his broken right foot examined as well.

Mike Lowell (strained right hip) went out early Thursday and "took some ground balls, [hit] some balls off the tee and in the cage," Francona said. "He actually felt pretty good. We're going to start ramping him back up, too."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.