The Boston Red Sox sound as though they're preparing to start the season in Tokyo without Josh Beckett. The Los Angeles Dodgers sent one manager to China and replaced him with feisty fill-in Tommy Lasorda.
Time is running out on Beckett's slim chance of traveling to Japan 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 the Far East 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 in Fort Myers, Fla.
The Red Sox have two exhibition games against Japanese teams before facing the Oakland Athletics in games that count 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 Florida, 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.
New Dodgers manager Joe Torre began his trip to Beijing, taking along a Los Angeles split squad for two exhibition games against San Diego this weekend. He left Tuesday for Orlando, where he and a roster of 27 players will fly out on Wednesday.
Torre was replaced by Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who returned to the dugout for the first time in 12 years - and didn't stay there long. The 80-year-old stormed onto the field in the second inning against Florida to argue with an umpire when James Loney was tagged out running to first base on a bunt.
Lasorda thought the ball was foul. The play ended the inning, and Lasorda was directed back to the dugout as the crowd cheered.
``He was yelling,'' Loney said. ``He was giving it to him. But that's Tommy, though. You've got to win.''
Lasorda, who retired from managing in 1996 after 21 years, is temporarily taking over the Dodgers this week while Torre is gone. His first game back was a 7-6 loss to the Marlins in Vero Beach, Fla., but other than that it seemed just like the old days.
Though Lasorda was disappointed with the result, he enjoyed being back at the helm.
``It's been a long time for me. I am so happy and grateful they allowed me to do it. I wish we would have won the game, but we'll get them next time,'' said Lasorda, who went 1,599-1,439 as a manager and won World Series championships with the Dodgers in 1981 and '88.
Ichiro Suzuki is having an unusual spring, too. The Seattle Mariners' hitting star went 0-for-4 during a 4-1 loss to Colorado in Tucson, Ariz., dropping to 0-for-21 in exhibition games this year.
He has the most at-bats without a hit for any player in the majors, and the slump is three short of his longest regular-season hitless streak, in 2005.
``I don't understand what I need to be worried about,'' Suzuki said through a translator. ``I am very thankful that people when I am not hitting care so much about this.''
``To tell you the truth, some of this is kind of fun,'' he added. ``To be in a situation this early, in spring training, and have this kind of a little bit intense environment is something I couldn't experience before. Basically, it's a situation where I need to battle within myself mentally. That's something I haven't experienced this time of the year. ... This is great for me.''
At Minnesota Twins camp, Johan Santana made a surprise visit to his see his old teammates and coaches. His new club, the New York Mets, was playing Boston across town in Fort Myers, where he still has a house.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner convinced Twins catcher Joe Mauer to give him a bat. Santana talked about missing his former team but also being excited about the future. He met with former manager Ron Gardenhire for about 45 minutes.
``It's good to be back and say hello,'' Santana said. ``I thought I'd spend my career here and with nobody else. That didn't happen. It's a business, and that's what they had to do. It's sad, but I had to move on. I wish them all the best, and hopefully it works out for everybody.''
In other news, reliever Armando Benitez agreed to a minor league contract with Toronto, and Texas third baseman Travis Metcalf is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a torn left hamstring tendon that will require surgery.
In other spring training games:
Athletics 6, Cubs 4
At Mesa, Ariz., Jack Cust homered for the only run Chicago ace Carlos Zambrano has allowed in three starts this spring.
Angels 8, Padres 4
At Peoria, Ariz., NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy gave up four runs in the first inning.
Royals 8, Diamondbacks 7
At Tucson, Ariz., Eric Byrnes hit his first homer, off Kansas City starter Zack Greinke. He allowed three solo shots in four innings, struck out five and walked none.
Giants 8, Brewers 4
At Phoenix, Brewers ace Ben Sheets was tagged for his first five runs of the spring as the Giants batted around in the second inning.
Rays 7, Twins 1
At Fort Myers, Fla., Livan Hernandez gave up two runs in four innings. He is likely to start the Twins' season opener. Tampa Bay's James Shields pitched five shutout innings.
Yankees 6, Blue Jays 1
At Tampa, Fla., Chien-Ming Wang pitched shutout ball into the fourth and Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer.
Orioles 2, Cardinals 2, 10 innings
At Jupiter, Fla., Baltimore's Daniel Cabrera worked around five walks in three innings, allowing one run. He has walked seven in 7 2-3 innings over three spring starts.
Tigers (ss) 5, Reds (ss) 4
At Lakeland, Fla., Carlos Guillen hit his fourth home run of the spring for Detroit. Dontrelle Willis walked four in 2 1-3 innings.
Red Sox 4, Mets 3
At Fort Myers, Fla., Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has added a slider to his repertoire, faced the minimum six batters in two hitless innings.
Reds (ss) 5, Astros 4
At Sarasota, Fla., Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence homered off Cincinnati's No. 1 starter, Aaron Harang. Bourn missed the previous two games with upper back spasms.
Tigers (ss) 4, Indians 2, 10 innings
At Winter Haven, Fla., Grady Sizemore homered twice for Cleveland and Cliff Lee pitched three scoreless innings.
Rangers 7, White Sox 5, 10 innings
At Surprise, Ariz., Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer with two outs in the 10th off Matt Anderson. Chicago's Gavin Floyd, out with the flu since March 1, worked four innings. He gave up solo homers to Josh Hamilton and Ben Broussard.

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