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03/18/09 6:45 PM ET

Penny pitches to Minor Leaguers

Red Sox right-hander encouraged after throwing three innings

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and fellow pitchers Josh Beckett and Justin Masterson among the onlookers, right-hander Brad Penny pitched three innings in a Minor League game at the Red Sox's player development complex against a Minnesota Twins' Class A squad.

Epstein liked what he saw from the right-hander he signed to a one-year, $5 million, incentive-laden contract in January.

"He threw really well today. That was impressive," Epstein said. "He was up to 95 [mph] a few times in the first inning. His command was much better than it had been. He was hitting the corners.

"So it's a definite step in the right direction and he continues to make really good progress," Epstein added. "I think he really turned a corner about 10 days, two weeks ago after that one time he had a hard time getting loose. All the signs have been really positive since then."

Penny threw 41 pitches, 30 for strikes, while facing 11 batters, with four strikeouts -- all looking -- and one hit, a double to right by Evan Bigley. In his previous outing -- two innings in an intrasquad Minor League game Friday -- Penny threw 33 pitches.

"I think today was significantly improved over his outing five days ago," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "I thought his arm strength and command of his fastball was improved. His velocity was improved over his previous time, which again is a benchmark, not an end-all. ... Getting up and down three times for the three innings today was primarily the goal to get him close to 45 pitches."

Penny has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. He was scratched from his March 4 start against Team Puerto Rico after shoulder fatigue cut short a bullpen session on March 1. Shoulder ailments last season limited him to 19 appearances, 17 starts, with a record of 6-9 and a 6.27 ERA.

Penny is on track, Farrell said, for his first Grapefruit League start on March 23, at City of Palms Park against the Tigers.

Whether he is on track to be the No. 5 starter at the beginning of the season has yet to be determined.

"We'll see," Epstein said. "It's really not a huge concern, whether he's ready for that first time around the rotation or shortly thereafter. What's more important is that he gets up to 100 percent and gets in a position where he's ready to handle a load over the course of a whole season. So that's something we won't be able to answer until closer to the season. But I think he has a chance to be."

Penny's fastball velocity ranged between 93 to 95 mph, Farrell said.

"[Location and arm strenght] go hand in hand," Farrell said. "I thought the first inning today was probably as crisp as he's shown at any point in time, and certainly in this camp and dating back to last year. In the second inning, I thought he had a tendency to overthrow at times, which he acknowledged. But I think more importantly, he comes out of this today feeling good about himself again, and physically with no limitations."

"He's always been a guy who throws 95, 96, even 97 miles an hour," Epstein said. "So the velocity is going to be there. I think the work he needs to put in on his shoulder is beneficial in terms of endurance and making sure his arm is working the right way, so he can stay healthy. So far, so good on that one."

Penny said he was not concerned by his velocity readings.

"I'm not too worried about that, if I'm commanding and I feel strong," Penny said. "That's all, for me, that I need to know.

"[I] had a little trouble with the breaking ball today. I was leaving it in to righties, instead of getting my arm out and away. But for the most part that was it."

Facing Minor Leaguers, instead of a Major League lineup, had just one drawback, Penny said.

"There's no adrenaline, but you know, it's nice that I can still go out there and have some velocity," Penny said. "But it's Spring Training. The real adrenaline doesn't hit until April.

"I need to I build my pitch count up. It's repetition, you know, pitching off of a mound to hitters. That's where the mechanics come in, when you're facing hitters, and your arm speed is where you need it to be. Bullpen [sessions] always help, but game speed, you can't go out and practice that."

After facing three batters in each of the first two innings, Penny faced five batters and had two baserunners in the third inning. Increasing Penny's stamina in each of his outings is another goal, Farrell said.

"That's a work in progress, as it is with all of our pitchers here, particularly the phase that he's in, probably two starts behind everybody else," Farrell said. "But looking at the calendar, we're looking at probably three more starts down here before any kind of further decision is made. And that's not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but that's just to know that we've got those opportunities to continue to build on that stamina and endurance."

Penny said he is about where he wants to be in Spring Training, and feels that he could be ready for the start of the season.

"Yeah, I think I am," he said. "I mean, I feel like it ... that's not my decision. So I'm going to listen to their program and go along with them."

Penny said he was happy to see his teammates there on a day the big league team had off.

"That was pretty cool," Penny said. "They told me they were coming. I didn't believe Josh. But these guys care, man. They're pulling for me, and it's nice to have people out there pulling for you."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.