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 FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Bartolo Colon's comeback picked up speed Sunday when he showed excellent control during his first batting practice session of spring training and was scheduled to pitch in a game Thursday.
Colon has been impressive since Boston signed the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner to a minor league contract on Feb. 25. He threw three bullpen sessions in the previous six days without facing hitters.
``He's ready for some game activity,'' pitching coach John Farrell said after Sunday's 43-pitch session.
Colon won't throw more than 30 pitches or two innings against Tampa Bay in his spring debut, Farrell said.
Farrell had said previously that the Red Sox planned for Colon to pitch in his first game next Saturday against Cincinnati.
After Sunday's batting practice session against four minor leaguers, Colon said through a translator that he ``feels better than ever'' after two injury-plagued seasons.
By pitching Thursday, he has a better chance to appear in two games in Florida before the team departs March 19 for Tokyo. Boston plays two exhibition games there against Japanese teams and two regular-season games against the Oakland Athletics.
No decision has been made on whether Colon will make that trip, Farrell said.
``The most important thing we want at this point is consistency, continuity with his schedule,'' Farrell said.
Colon would be more important if Josh Beckett is slowed by a back problem. Boston's ace walked off the mound after experiencing back spasms during six warmup pitches before Saturday's game against the Florida Marlins. Manny Delcarmen started in his place.
Beckett seemed better on Sunday in the Red Sox clubhouse before the team flew to Vero Beach to play the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 4-0. Manager Terry Francona said the problem was muscular. Beckett did not make the trip and there was no word on when he would pitch again.
The Red Sox already are without Curt Schilling, who is expected to be sidelined at least until the All-Star break while he rehabilitates his right shoulder.
Colon's progress has been consistent since Boston signed him as a free agent after two seasons in which shoulder and elbow injuries limited him to 29 games and seven wins. In 2005, he was 21-8 with a 3.48 ERA for the Los Angeles Angels. His four-year contract ended after last season.
During batting practice, Colon threw two-seam and four-seam fastballs, changeups and breaking balls. He sat in the dugout for four minutes after 21 pitches, simulating a rest between innings. Then he threw 22 more pitches to David Marks, Daniel Nava, Matt Sheely and Luis Sumoza.
On Thursday, he could face Carl Crawford.
``More than anything, the execution of his breaking pitches, he thinks that'll be the most important thing once he gets into game activity,'' Colon's translator said. ``He feels really good and he was very pleased with his control more than anything.''
He also liked throwing to batters, even though they let most of his pitches go by, because it gave the workout ``a more game-like feel,'' Colon said.
The last time he pitched in a game was Feb. 6 when he worked 4 2-3 innings for the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean World Series.
Colon's progress with Boston doesn't surprise him.
``He kind of expected this because he was working hard in the Dominican before he came over to Fort Myers,'' the translator said. ``He says he's kind of right where he expected himself to be.''
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