TORONTO -- As expected, the Boston Red Sox shuffled their pitching rotation for this weekend's series against the New York Yankees, with manager Terry Francona's top three starters lined up to go in the Bronx.
"We're giving Daisuke a couple extra days because we're trying to spread out a couple of guys and also lining it up how it seems to make sense," Francona said before Tuesday's opener of a two-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays. "We're trying to kill a bunch of birds with one stone."
Officially there are two reasons for taking advantage of Thursday's off day to push back Matsuzaka.
One is to give the 30-year-old, who had elbow soreness last month, a little extra rest following a week in which he made his first major league relief appearance (May 4 in a 13-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels).
The other is to split up Matsuzaka and Beckett in Boston's rotation so that catcher Jason Varitek, who has caught both right-handers of late, will not have to play on consecutive days.
Left unspoken is the desire to keep Matsuzaka from having to face New York's powerful lineup.
Beckett, 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA this seaon, and Lester, 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA prior to Tuesday's start, both rank in the AL's top 10 in ERA.
Buchholz, 3-3 with a 4.19 ERA, is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in his last five starts after going 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA in his first two starts of 2011.
Beckett in particular is looking more like the dominant pitcher who from 2006-09 won 65 games and a World Series with Boston before crashing to a 6-6 record and 5.78 ERA in an injury-plagued 2010 season. He went seven scoreless innings while getting a no-decision Monday against the Minnesota Twins. On April 10, Beckett dominated the Yankees, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits in eight shutout innings.
Although he has only two wins, Francona said he is seeing what he considers to be vintage Beckett.
"This has been a pretty good stretch, he actually to me looks a little bit more mature, I hate to say that," Francona said with a laugh. "He's holding runners, he's throwing breaking balls, the change-up's softened up a little bit. I think he's really pitching. He's still got a pretty good fastball but the pitching, when you have stuff and you're pitching, that's a nice combo."
Jeremy Sandler is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.