09/17/07 3:00 AM ET
Notes: Matsuzaka pushed back
Stronger with more rest, righty scratched from Wednesday
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
But there is no denying that there are at least some October preparations going on for a team that has been in first place since April 18. For example, Francona announced before Sunday's game that the rotation has been altered and that Wednesday's start in Toronto -- which was originally supposed to go to Daisuke Matsuzaka -- is now a TBA.
Francona will utilize off-days on both Thursday and Monday to tweak the pitching staff in a way the club wants it entering the postseason.
"Well, at some point, we need to maneuver our staff as we go forward," said Francona. "We may want to do that Wednesday -- that's really what it is. That's [Matsuzaka's] day. At some point, we have to maneuver our staff. If we do it, we could do it Wednesday or next week. That's why it's TBA."
Matsuzaka confirmed to the Japanese media that the club has informed him that he won't pitch on Wednesday because it would give him too many days off entering the postseason.
However, the right-hander is not sure when he will pitch next. It could be any of the three games the Red Sox play at Tampa Bay over the weekend, though Francona wasn't ready to line that up just yet.
Obviously, ace Josh Beckett would be Boston's No. 1 starter in a potential American League Division Series. Assuming that Beckett stays on track and pitches on Friday against the Devil Rays, Matsuzaka could be slotted behind him. Currently, Matsuzaka is one game ahead of Beckett in the rotation.
The other benefit of not pitching Matsuzaka in Toronto is that he can get extra rest. Matsuzaka has typically pitched better this year when he has more than the standard four days of rest. To wit, in 13 starts with four days of rest, Matsuzaka has a 5.29 ERA. That ERA decreases to 3.96 in 15 starts with five days of rest. In the two starts Matsuzaka has had with six days of rest or more, his ERA is 2.08.
Who will start Wednesday against the Blue Jays? Julian Tavarez, who has been a valuable spot starter for the Red Sox since moving to the bullpen on July 23, is a logical possibility. Top prospect Clay Buchholz -- he of the no-hitter on Sept. 1 -- could be a candidate, but perhaps unlikely considering the innings limit he is on.
Manny not quite there yet: Star slugger Manny Ramirez (strained left oblique) was out of the lineup for the 18th consecutive game on Sunday night. Don't look for him to return by Monday, when the Sox open a three-game series in Toronto. Francona indicated that the left fielder is still "two, three, four, five days out."
Ramirez was antsy to get at-bats somewhere before returning to the lineup, which was viewed as a sign that he's feeling better. But Francona had to inform Ramirez that the Minor League season is over.
"It was kind of cool -- he was trying to find a place to get some at-bats," said Francona. "Again, I tried to explain to him that it would be with us. There's no instructional league, there's no Minor League. It was good. I was appreciative."
Youk in pain: Francona was holding out some hope that first baseman Kevin Youkilis could return to the lineup by Monday. Youkilis suffered a contusion of his right wrist after being plunked by a Chien-Ming Wang pitch in Saturday's 10-1 Red Sox win.
"Youk is really sore on the inside part of his wrist, which, I think, is understandable," said Francona. "He'll receive his treatment, and we'll see where that progresses. I think everybody acknowledges he's a pretty tough kid, and hopefully, this will be maybe just [Sunday]. That would be great."
However, Youkilis seemed skeptical that he'd be back that quickly.
"Hopefully it will go quick and I'll be ready to play as soon as possible," Youkilis said. "It's unfortunate at this point of the season to get hit in that spot. We have great trainers and a good doctor. They say this is always the worst day. Hopefully, [Monday] there will be a big improvement."
Eric Hinske started Sunday's game at first base and batted seventh.
Mirabelli might miss Wake: Backup catcher Doug Mirabelli's goal was to be back for Tim Wakefield's next start, which will come on Monday night in Toronto. However, there's a chance that won't happen. Mirabelli injured his left calf on Sept. 6 in Baltimore.
"He's politicking for it," Francona said. "I don't know if he's ready. Obviously, he must be getting pretty close. I just don't quite know if he's there. We'll see."
If Mirabelli can't go, Kevin Cash will again catch Wakefield.
Coming up: The Red Sox will begin a six-game road trip on Monday night in Toronto, handing the ball to Wakefield (16-10, 4.68 ERA) opposite Blue Jays righty Dustin McGowan (10-9, 4.01 ERA) at 7:07 ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.