Beckett to pitch Opening Day

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Despite three days off in the first 10 days of the season, the Red Sox came up with a creative solution to use all five starting pitchers in setting their initial rotation Friday.

As expected, manager Terry Francona announced that Josh Beckett will start the season opener a week from Sunday against the Yankees, followed by Jon Lester (April 6) and John Lackey (April 7), completing the three-game set against the Yanks.

"That has been decided for some time,'' Francona said, "and they all knew.''

The twist comes after that, with Tim Wakefield facing the Royals in Kansas City (April 9) before the Sox come back with Beckett (April 10) and then Clay Buchholz (April 11) to close out that series.

The rotation then picks back up with Lester facing the Twins (April 12) in the first game ever to be played in Minnesota's new Target Field, followed by Lackey (April 14) and Wakefield (April 15). Beckett and Buchholz would then open the next series at home in Fenway Park against the Tampa Bay Rays.

All of these plans are contingent on weather and other unforeseen factors, such as injury or illness.

A big challenge was deciding how much rest would most benefit each pitcher. Both Beckett and Lester will come back on five days' rest for each of their first two starts.

Last season, Beckett thrived on five days' rest, going 9-0 with a 2.29 ERA. On regular rest, he was 6-5 with a 4.73 ERA.

"It keeps Josh from not going farther, or into a seven-day time-span, where we've seen over the past couple of years when he gets past six days, that extra rest starts to take away from his sharpness," Farrell explained.

On six days or more rest, Beckett was 2-1 with a 4.64 ERA.

Like Beckett, Lester also benefitted from the extra day, going 8-3 with a 2.72 ERA, as opposed to 5-3 with a 3.99 ERA.

Wakefield, too, will have five days' rest between his first two starts, and he also benefitted last season with an extra day, going 5-1 with a 4.17 ERA, compared with 5-1, 4.83 on regular rest.

The newcomer, Lackey, will be the one most affected, since he will have six days between starts. In his career, he's 10-10 with a 4.44 ERA with six or more days of rest. Last season, he was 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA in two starts on six days' rest.

One aspect of the rotation Farrell likes is that Wakefield, in the No. 4 spot, offers a nice contrast between power right-handers Lackey and Beckett.

"He's done everything we could have asked in spring training," Farrell said of Wakefield, who has pitched 19.2 innings and posted a 3.66 ERA. "He's come in, proven he's healthy [following off-season back surgery], and thrown the ball very well. It gives us a confident feeling that we're fairly deep, one through five, in this rotation."

The final decision on the rotation was made Friday morning, according to Farrell.

"I think it's a lot of relief for the five guys in the rotation to have a clear picture of, once the season begins, where they are going to be starting and who they are going to be going against," Farrell said.

"We still have a lot of work left in spring training, but there is always that thought in the back of every starter's mind of 'Where do I line up?' I think with the five starters we have, in combination with the work they're doing in spring training, plus what they did for us last year and in previous years, we feel good about the five guys we'll begin the season with."

The last three days have exhibited how strong the Sox's rotation could be, as this is the point where starters are being stretched out with their longest outings of spring.

On Wednesday, Beckett went five innings, striking out nine while allowing three hits and one earned run against the Pirates. Wakefield followed up with a strong performance against the Marlins, with five scoreless innings before a three-run sixth, and on Friday, Lester looked sharp in firing six innings against the Blue Jays, scattering six hits while allowing two unearned runs (one of which was a result of his own throwing error on an errant pickoff attempt).

"A week ago, looking at the rotation, it was clear that guys needed two more turns. We're halfway through that first turn and the last three days have been very encouraging -- solid outings by all three guys that have taken the mound," Farrell said. "[Saturday], we'll look for more of that with John [Lackey] taking the mound. I think guys are making very satisfactory progress from the start of the year."

Looking ahead, the Red Sox might have some tough decisions when Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to full health, but that wouldn't be until mid-April at the earliest.

Francona talked about the Red Sox balancing "present, future, performance and winning" with the rotation, and believes the club has struck the right balance.

"I think we're pretty comfortable with where we ended up," he said.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston and occasionally checks out the Red Sox. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag. Gordon Edes, who covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com, contributed to this report.