Healthy Wakefield in command in debut
Knuckleballer cruises in first game action since back surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Unlike the last time he went out to the mound in a game situation, Tim Wakefield could simply pitch on Friday afternoon.
It was nothing like those last three times he pitched in 2009, when his back and left calf were weakened to the point where he couldn't even walk without a limp, never mind field his position.
Now entering his 16th season with the Red Sox, Wakefield feels rejuvenated from the October back surgery that did everything doctors assured him it would.
He threw two breezy innings against the Twins, giving up one hit. Of Wakefield's 22 pitches, 16 were for strikes. The knuckleball was doing what he wanted it to.
"You know, I felt really good today. I felt like my timing was there, my rhythm was good," said Wakefield. "I was able to throw a lot of strikes and get outs quickly. I'm very pleased. Physically, I feel fine. Today was the first time I've actually thrown pitches, sat back down and went back out. Everything felt fine. I'm just glad to get the first one out of the way and get ready for the season."
There might have been curiosity from the outside to see how the 43-year-old Wakefield would look, but he knew immediately after getting to Spring Training that his back was no longer an issue.
"I'm excited," Wakefield said. "Obviously this is a test. But I've been telling everybody that I feel fine, and I think I proved to myself when I got over here that everything was going to be good. I'm just trying to get ready for the long haul of the season."
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Still, it was nice for the Red Sox to be able to watch an unhindered Wakefield take the mound again.
"I think we all were [pleased]," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "The ball had movement, he was attacking the strike zone. He looked crisp -- that was good to see."
With 189 career wins -- 175 of them for the Red Sox -- everybody knows how important Wakefield is when he is healthy. Before his back acted up, Wakefield won 11 games in the first half of last season to make the American League All-Star team for the first time.
And even if he knew he was feeling fine before Friday, he still enjoyed the experience of pitching with a healthy body.
"It's a big difference," Wakefield said. "Obviously I have my strength back on that side now. Right now, it's building strength in my legs. Not that they're weak, but it's just a matter of getting the pitch count up and getting your arm stretched out for five, six, seven innings, and I'll be ready to go for the start of the season."
Next up for Wakefield will be a start on Tuesday in Jupiter, Fla., against the Marlins.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.