Wakefield intent on spot in starting five
Knuckleballer has high expectations for 16th season with Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When we last saw him in 2009, Tim Wakefield was limping through his starts, only because he has always done whatever he could to help his team. Now, he is 43, but feeling young again.
Back for his 16th season with the Red Sox -- yes, 16th -- Wakefield has no plans on spending most of his Spring Training in the trainer's room. He also doesn't envision starting the season on the disabled list.
Nearly four months removed from back surgery, Wakefield's sole focus is to open the season as one of manager Terry Francona's five starting pitchers. This, even though the Sox have six highly-capable starters, a mix that also includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz.
"Does that ever happen, that we have six healthy starters come the regular season? We'll let [Spring Training] play itself out and then we'll see come April 1," said Wakefield.
All Wakefield can do is get himself ready to pitch.
"I plan on being one of the five starters," Wakefield said. "As long as I'm healthy during Spring Training and there are no setbacks during the season, I think I'll be one of the five."
During a meeting with general manager Theo Epstein, Francona and pitching coach John Farrell on Friday, Wakefield didn't sense his bosses trying to steer him away from that thought.
"It was positive on both ends," said Wakefield. "I think Theo and Tito and John all feel like we're a better team with me in the rotation. I eat up innings. I do whatever it takes to help us win, and I think we agreed on that aspect. Obviously, they want to make sure I'm healthy. If I need some extra time, I can take extra time. We have six weeks down here. I'll be ready to roll by the time the season opens."
So there Wakefield was at Saturday's opening workout, throwing his bullpen session side-by-side with Beckett, Lester and Lackey. For yet another season, he will float that knuckleball up there, much to the chagrin of the hitters who try to solve it.
"It was a hard winter for me, going to therapy five days a week, but my therapist in Florida did a great job getting me back to normalcy," Wakefield said. "Being on the field today for the first time, everything feels good. I was able to cover first and run around and throw off the bullpen mounds. Everything feels great. No hiccups. Hopefully I'll continue Spring Training on that same path."
Last season began like a dream for Wakefield, as he reeled off 11 wins in the first half and made the American League All-Star team for the first time. But right as he got off the plane in Toronto to start the second half, his back flared up. Soon thereafter, he had lost just about all his strength in his left calf, making walking without a limp a near impossibility. Wakefield would make just four starts the rest of the way, the last three of which were painful for him to get through and perhaps even more excruciating for his friends, family and fans to watch.
"No regrets," Wakefield said. "I did whatever I had to do to get on the field to try to help us win. It wasn't pretty. I pitched OK. I didn't pitch great, but considering after the surgery what the doctor had told me, considering what was going on in my back, [I'm] really surprised that I was still out there trying to pitch. But those of you who have been around me long enough know I'll do whatever I can to go out there and help us win. I have no regrets."
Wakefield clearly takes exception to the thought that he's now a part-time starting pitcher. He has, after all, made 30 starts or more in five of the past seven years -- last year and '06 being the lone exceptions.
"My job here as a starter is to last the whole season and make 30 starts," Wakefield said. "That's my goal coming into Spring Training every year -- to stay healthy every year, make my 30 starts and see what happens in the end. My goal every year is to give them 200 innings and make all my starts."
The Red Sox hope Wakefield can reach his goals, and they certainly don't want him to tone down his expectations.
"We've tried to explain to him -- it's not just Wake, but any pitcher -- if you need a day somewhere, tell us," Francona said. "We have built in some extra days as we go. We really want to be built for the long haul. Again, everybody points to Opening Day and I understand that. But it's not the end all, be all. We want guys to be strong, so they can be productive over the course of a really long season."
Nobody wants that more than Wakefield, who is pushing for team and individual goals. First, Wakefield wants to win a third World Series championship with the Red Sox. Wakefield is just 11 wins away from 200 for his career. Then, there are those 18 more wins he needs to reach 193 for Boston and surpass Cy Young and Roger Clemens as the all-time winningest pitcher in Sox history.
"That's one of my goals," Wakefield said. "That's not the forefront of my goals, but it is a goal of mine. My biggest goal is to stay healthy and try to win another World Series in Boston. As it's looking now, everything's feeling good and I'm looking forward to getting the rest of the spring over with and starting the season."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.