OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Josh Beckett completed what should be his final step toward returning to the Boston Red Sox rotation.
Slowed by back spasms this spring, Beckett pitched five innings Tuesday in an intrasquad game in Fort Myers, Fla., and manager Terry Francona hopes to start his ace right-hander Sunday at Toronto.
Beckett, who went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA last season for the World Series champions, allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and didn't walk a batter while throwing 64 pitches, 47 for strikes.
General manager Theo Epstein and pitching coach John Farrell will confer with Francona before a final decision is made on Beckett.
``I talked to him after,'' Francona said before the Red Sox opened stateside against the Oakland Athletics. ``More likely than not he's going to probably pitch that last game in Toronto. I want to sit with Theo and John and Josh together. There's no reason to have that conversation until he has his work after the start. But everything's fine.''
Beckett felt soreness in his back after throwing a warmup pitch before his scheduled start March 8 against the Florida Marlins, and left without facing a batter. He placed on the 15-day disabled list March 19.
Francona said Beckett was concerned that the Red Sox might have to dip into their bullpen in his start if he wasn't able to go very deep in the game when he returns.
``I think he felt some urgency because of the way he goes about things, about getting into the bullpen early,'' the skipper said. ``I think that might have been wearing on him. I told him, 'You got a day off.' I said we're trying to do this not only for our ballclub but for you, to get you going. I think he's looking forward to getting back with us.''
Meanwhile, right-hander Mike Timlin, recovering from a cut on his right ring finger that required two stitches, threw Monday from up to 90 feet and is scheduled to pitch twice for Triple-A Pawtucket on April 7 and 9 before rejoining the Red Sox around April 11.
Timlin is on the 15-day DL, retroactive to March 20 and a day after he cut himself.
``We'll see how the schedule plays out, hopefully on the 11th he'll join us,'' Francona said. ``Again, it's going to depend on how he feels. His arm strength was pretty good.''
Francona and Epstein are still contemplating what roster moves to make once the two pitchers come off the DL. Francona will keep the communication lines open with those players who might be sent down.
``I don't want to lie to anybody,'' Francona said. ``They're smart guys. They know that Beckett's coming, they know Timlin's coming. That's just what it is. Handling it, I know can be hard, but so can handling the bases loaded in Boston in August.''

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