Notes: Sox unveil early exhibition plan

Notes: Red Sox unveil early exhibition plan

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While stressing that the regular-season rotation has not been finalized just yet, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell unveiled an early exhibition plan that could well be a preview of the way Boston opens the season in Kansas City.

In the first three days of Grapefruit League action, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will all take the ball.

Schilling will open the exhibition season by drawing the Wednesday night start at home against the Twins. The following day, lefty Kason Gabbard will take the bus ride to Dunedin to face the Blue Jays, while Beckett kicks off his spring that night at home against Northeastern University.

Meanwhile, the Sox kept with their earlier plan of giving Matsuzaka his unofficial unveiling in the Friday, March 2 night game against Boston College. Swingman Kyle Snyder will pitch earlier that day against the Blue Jays at City of Palms Park.

The other two members of the starting five -- Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon -- will split the March 3 home game against the Phillies. Wakefield will pitch the first two innings and Papelbon will get the third and fourth inning.

"Each starter will go two innings pretty much their first time out, and we'll look to add an inning from that point forward," said Farrell, who announced the pitching alignment because manager Terry Francona was out with the flu.

All five starters are expected to come back on three days' rest the first time around the rotation, and that will change once the workload increases.

Closing time: In order to best gauge the closer competition, Farrell said that the four top candidates will get their work by the fifth or sixth inning during the early games. That way, the quartet will be facing mostly starting players on the opposition.

The four men competing for the job -- Mike Timlin, Joel Pineiro, Julian Tavarez and Brendan Donnelly -- all pitched batting practice for the first time on Friday.

Hansack could emerge: One pitcher who bears watching over the course of Spring Training is right-hander Devern Hansack, who came out of nowhere to make two late-season starts for the Sox in 2006. Hansack is being used in the bullpen this spring, and he could be in line to win a job.

"From a physical standpoint, he's got a live arm, he's got the ability to throw a breaking ball and at times, an above-average breaking ball for strikes," said Farrell. "I think the one thing that stands out in Tito's mind and Theo's [Epstein] mind -- and many others' -- is just the way he responded to the atmosphere last year in September. Albeit [it was] September, but still it was his first exposure to the Major League level and he seemed to handle that very well."

For those who don't remember, Hansack pitched five no-hit innings for the Red Sox in the rain-shortened finale to the regular season. It did not count as a no-hitter, as per fairly recent changes to the rulebook.

Two lefties? A year ago, the Red Sox had a hard enough time finding one reliable lefty reliever. This year, there are a bunch of them in camp. J.C. Romero and Hideki Okajima are the front-runners. Javy Lopez and Kason Gabbard are also in the mix. And Craig Breslow, who had a solid year at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2006, is a dark horse.

Farrell seems to like the idea of having two lefties.

"I'm not trying to speak for [Francona], but from a pitching recommendation and game usage, you look at having just one lefty in the bullpen, it can handcuff the manager sometimes," said Farrell. "[It's tough to know] when to use him or not to use him, or pick the right situation. I think, first and foremost, the secondary lefty has to be able to get a right-hander out, because you don't want to get caught in a left-right-left part of the lineup."

Sick skipper: Francona, who hates to miss work, did just that Friday. It was the second day in a row the manager felt ill with the flu. Because Thursday was the first full-squad workout, Francona was able to grind through it. On Friday, he got a respite. According to Farrell, Francona's temperature was over 100.

Breaking out the clubs: The Red Sox got off the field an hour earlier than usual Friday, so they could play in a charity golf tournament. Among the participants was Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had no problem playing to the adoring crowd while belting out an impressive tee shot on the first hole. Wakefield, probably the best golfer on the Red Sox, also played.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.