Neck issue sets Matsuzaka back more

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Whatever remote chance Daisuke Matsuzaka had of being ready for the start of the regular season all but vanished Saturday morning when he was unable to throw a batting practice session here because of stiffness in his neck.

"I don't think Opening Day was the end-all and be-all,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We just want to get him ready. I don't think that's the biggest decision we have right now. We just want to get him on the mound, get him going, get him stretched out.''

It was almost exactly a month ago (Feb. 12) that Matsuzaka cut short a bullpen session with what was called back tightness. The Sox insisted it was a minor setback, but Matsuzaka did not throw another bullpen session until March 5, almost three weeks later.

Saturday morning, Matsuzaka was warming up for his first round of batting practice and had thrown five pitches in the bullpen when he shut it down. Red Sox publicist Pam Ganley then announced that Matsuzaka was a no-go because of a stiff neck.

"I did not throw live BP today due to stiffness in my neck," said Matsuzaka, in a written statement left with a team spokesman. "As for my schedule going forward, I'm going to see how I feel tomorrow, meet with the coaching staff, and decide at that point."

Matsuzaka returned to the Sox clubhouse and went into the training room for treatment. He left several hours later without speaking to reporters.

"He talked to [pitching coach] John Farrell and decided to shut it down,'' Francona said. "We're going day to day on it. He got it worked on, we'll wait until he shows up tomorrow. When he feels good we'll repeat what we were going to do today.

"I don't know if that will be tomorrow or the next day or the next day.''

Matsuzaka had come to camp in the best condition since he signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2007 season, spending five weeks working out at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona. The Red Sox had asked him to show up in better shape after a disastrous 2009 in which he made just a dozen starts, won four games and was sent back to Florida to essentially repeat spring training with a fatigued shoulder.

The Red Sox were pleased with the results, but after reporting early to Florida, Matsuzaka suffered his first setback six days before the official reporting date, falling behind the other starting pitchers in camp.

Now comes another setback, and while the Red Sox again insist it's minor in nature, there is little chance of Matsuzaka throwing the 25 innings in exhibition play the Sox generally like to have their starters throw, with the season opener scheduled for April 4.

There is also a possibility that Matsuzaka will have to return to Boston to attend to a family matter, which could further disrupt his preparation.

Francona said the neck issue was not related to Matsuzaka's previous back problems, and said Matsuzaka had not experienced it previously.

"I don't think it's anything but a stiff neck,'' Francona said. "I don't know that we need to be conservative as long as he's OK, so we'll see when it goes away.''

It's a reasonable expectation that when camp breaks here on April 1, the Red Sox will leave Matsuzaka behind. That would provide a temporary solution to how the Sox intend to fit six starters into five slots. The team still has five healthy starters -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield.

Buchholz, who threw three scoreless innings in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in City of Palms Park, was asked if knowing that Matsuzaka was hurt alleviated any anxiety he might have felt about the 6-into-5 quandary.

"That's the least of my worries right now,'' he said. "I want to be on the team for the duration of the whole season. Two-and-a-half months wasn't going to mean that much if something happens where I don't do my job and end up in the same spot as I did last year.

"I'm going to keep working regardless of how many slots there are in the line right now.''

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.