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03/15/10 1:50 PM ET

Dice-K to pitch batting practice Wednesday

With neck improving, right-hander throws bullpen session

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It wasn't quite as big a step as was hoped for Daisuke Matsuzaka on Monday afternoon, but at least it was in the right direction.

Initially slated to throw a batting practice session, which had been cancelled on Saturday when Matsuzaka had a stiff neck, the right-hander instead threw a brief 25-pitch bullpen session. The good news is he appears to have passed that test and is once again tentatively scheduled to throw BP on Wednesday.

"It definitely feels better today," Matsuzaka said. "I felt comfortable with throwing off of the mound. I think just because of the location of where it is on my body, I know it's in a pretty critical area. So I didn't want to do anything that could potentially set me back. I think I could've gone forward today, but at the same time, we're still trying to play things conservatively, and that led to the decision."

Part of the reasoning had to do with scheduling. Matsuzaka first did some long tossing, stretching it out to 200 feet. Rather than stopping him and allowing him to cool off before the scheduled 11:30 a.m. ET batting practice, they moved to the bullpen to allow him to keep working. Matsuzaka said he was able to throw well and work on his fastball, slider and changeup during the session.

"There were no restrictions," pitching coach John Farrell reported. "His intensity was good and he was improved from the two bullpens he threw prior to the scheduled batting practice.

"I think he comes away encouraged, feeling good about himself. We didn't want to let him throw too long after the stiffness he felt yesterday in the event he might have felt irritated. It was more precautionary to keep him at the amount of pitches that he threw. Today was an encouraging day for him."

Matsuzaka will take any encouragement he can get at this point. The spring started out with him dealing with a back issue. He inched closer to facing hitters before the neck stiffness put that on hold. Now it appears that he is cautiously and tentatively back on track.

"I finally felt that my back issue was getting better, then at that point to go through this with my neck right now, it's sort of moving along in stops and starts and I think that's been a little bit stressful and frustrating," Matsuzaka admitted. "Going forward, it's going to depend on how my body responds to it all. We'll see from there."

Matsuzaka said that he tends to have issues with neck stiffness two-to-three times a year and had it been the regular season, he likely would've pitched through it. While not the same injury, there's a chance this occurrence could have had something to do with his body over-compensating for his sore back.

"I think that's definitely a possibility, but I'm not a doctor, so I can't say for sure," Matsuzaka said.

With each passing day, it becomes less and less likely that Matsuzaka will begin the year in the starting rotation, needing to stay back in Fort Myers to make up for lost time and to get properly stretched out. Manager Terry Francona recently said that being ready on Opening Day isn't of the utmost importance; making sure Matsuzaka is healthy for the long haul is.

That, and the fact that it's been one step forward and two steps back for much of the spring, is why no one wants to look too far ahead in terms of Matsuzaka's schedule. Step one will be to see how he feels on Tuesday, followed by that BP session. If that goes well and his body responds, then it might finally be time to talk about seeing Matsuzaka in some type of game action.

"At this point, we're taking it one step at a time," Farrell said. "It would be hopeful that we would get him in a Minor League game at that point. I think it's prudent on our part to have him pitch in a Minor League game first, to see his first live action. Today was a step in the right direction and sets him up for BP on Wednesday."

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