FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Time is running out on Josh Beckett's slim chance of traveling to Tokyo to pitch in Boston's first two regular-season games.
The Red Sox ace who led the majors with 20 wins last year has yet to pitch in a regular exhibition game, and his back injury might keep him from doing that. Plus, sitting on a plane for the long flight to Japan next Wednesday wouldn't be very comfortable.
``The one thing we're not going to do is send him over there to pitch three innings and hurt his back,'' manager Terry Francona said Tuesday.
The Red Sox have two exhibition games against Japanese teams before facing the Oakland Athletics in regular-season games March 25 and 26.
Beckett hasn't been able to stretch since he felt back spasms while throwing his first warmup pitch before Saturday's game against the Florida Marlins, Francona said. The right-hander threw a total of six warmup pitches and left before the game started.
Tests showed the injury was muscular.
``I don't think we know (for sure) yet'' whether Beckett will pitch in Japan, quoted Francona as saying. ``But we're certainly not going to rush him back to pitch a game March 24 if he's not ready. And I think if you look at it with common sense, he's not going to pitch over there.''
No decision has been made on whether Beckett will go to Japan, Red Sox spokesman John Blake said after talking with Francona about the report.
Last May, Beckett missed two starts when he tore skin on his right middle finger, an injury known as an avulsion.
``Last year, when he had that avulsion, we didn't run him out there when we probably could have, because we didn't think it made sense,'' Francona said before Tuesday's 4-3 win over the New York Mets. ``So, with something like this, we'll do the same thing and use good judgment. It's not always easy, but it's the right thing to do.''
Beckett stood in the dugout and watched Tuesday as his teammates stretched before the game.
He felt ``better today than I was yesterday,'' he said. ``I got a good night's sleep.''
But he's pitched just two innings against Boston College and three innings in a ``B'' game against the Minnesota Twins.
The Red Sox want to use Daisuke Matsuzaka in one of the first two games against Oakland, although his wife is due to give birth on March 19 in the United States. He wants to attend the birth, so he might travel to Japan after the rest of the team.
Candidates to replace Beckett are Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield.
``I haven't heard anything about it,'' Wakefield said after allowing two runs in four innings Tuesday. ``As far as I know, I'm scheduled to pitch the second exhibition game.''
Lester struggled in his first two exhibition outings, then was sharp in four scoreless innings Monday in a 1-1 tie with the Mets in 10 innings.
Francona had said the two pitchers who face the Athletics in Japan also could pitch against them in the next two regular-season games April 1 and 2.
``There's a lot of different options for sure, but we'll just get to one first,'' Francona said. ``We'll be fine.''
Beckett started 30 games last year, going 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. He won his first seven starts and was 9-0 before losing to Colorado on June 14. In the opener of the Red Sox sweep of the Rockies in the World Series, he allowed one run and six hits in seven innings of Boston's 13-1 victory.
Now he's trying to get healthy enough to throw a ball.
``He's not ready to go pitch, but (his back) is starting to relax a little bit, which is good. We need to calm that thing down,'' Francona said.
``And when he feels good enough that he thinks he could pitch, then we'll probably sit him a couple more days, just because we don't want to prolong something we don't want to prolong.''
The Red Sox already are without Curt Schilling, who is expected to miss at least half the season while he rehabilitates his injured right shoulder.
Beckett ``doesn't need to rush,'' closer Jonathan Papelbon said. ``Somebody's going to step up, but obviously, he's our horse, he's our ace, he's our man that gets everything started.''
The Red Sox also are missing shortstop Julio Lugo because of tightness in his lower back and center fielder Coco Crisp with a groin injury. Each has played just two exhibition games.
``I'll be ready'' to go to Japan, Lugo said.
Francona wasn't so sure about Lugo or Crisp.
``It's up in the air'' whether they'll make the trip, Francona said. ``We certainly can't expect guys to play if they haven't played here. That doesn't make sense.''

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