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03/12/08 6:29 PM ET

Colon to face Rays in Red Sox debut

Burly right-hander expected to pitch two frames on Thursday

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Until now, all of the work Bartolo Colon has done for the Red Sox has been behind the scenes. It started with long toss, then progressed to side work and some batting practice.

On Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET, it will be go time for Colon. That is when he steps on the mound at City of Palms Park and starts an exhibition game against the Rays.

Considering Colon's track record -- which includes an American League Cy Young Award in 2005 -- the Red Sox are eager to see what the big righty might be able to offer them.

"I'm looking forward to this," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Just the fact that we're getting him on the mound is exciting. We've talked about it all along, how compliant he's been. You're talking about a guy who, with his track record, he's been coming in at 6:30 [a.m.] and doing his work. We're just excited to get him on the mound and get him going in that direction."

Colon will throw a maximum of two innings, and it's unclear when he'll be ready to join the Red Sox, though it almost certainly won't be at the start of the regular season.

In other news, the Red Sox expect shortstop Julio Lugo (sore back) to be back in the lineup for Friday's exhibition game against the Orioles. Assuming Lugo doesn't suffer any setbacks, he should be ready for Opening Day.

However, center fielder Coco Crisp remains a question mark. Crisp has been bothered by soreness in both groins. Though he's starting to feel better from the left side, Francona said that the switch-hitter still "feels it from the right side". Francona and general manager Theo Epstein will sit down with Crisp on Thursday and outline a strategy for getting him back to health.

Though the calendar seems to be working against ace Josh Beckett (back spasms) being ready for the opener on March 25 at Tokyo Dome, the Red Sox have yet to make an official announcement.

They'll likely hold off for a few more days.

"We have some time to make those decisions," Francona said. "A guy like Beckett, we're certainly going to be careful; he knows that. But there's also that respect factor of who he is and what he's accomplished and how he works and we want to give him that respect."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.