BOSTON -- As superb as he was Thursday night, striking out a career-high 10 batters, Clay Buchholz was not pitching for his job.
Even before he took the mound at Fenway Park for what would wind up a 3-0 loss to the Texas Rangers, Buchholz knew that Daisuke Matsuzaka's return would not cost him a spot in the starting rotation.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona informed Tim Wakefield before the game that the 43-year-old knuckleballer was being sent to the bullpen, news that almost certainly came as a blow to the man who has been with the club longer than anyone in uniform.
Francona did not acknowledge Wakefield's demotion, which was first reported by Comcast Sports New England and confirmed by a team source. "We don't need to right now," he said. "It's not appropriate now."
Wakefield was fully dressed by the time the clubhouse was opened to reporters after the game and left quickly without comment. Wakefield, who was 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA in three starts this season, is still scheduled to make a start here Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.
Matsuzaka, who made the last of three rehab starts on Wednesday night for Triple-A Pawtucket, is expected to come off the disabled list and pitch either Monday or Tuesday in Toronto. Pitching Matsuzaka on Monday would give an extra day's rest to Josh Beckett, who since the start of 2009 is 10-0 with a 2.23 ERA on five days' rest, including 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts this season.
Wakefield's placement in the bullpen will have a ripple effect, most likely on Scott Atchison, who figures to be optioned to Pawtucket. Atchison has not pitched since Monday, when he went 2 2/3 scoreless innings against Tampa Bay.
Wakefield's agent, Barry Meister, said late Thursday night he had spoken with Wakefield, "but not in great detail."
"I haven't had a chance to visit with him yet," said Meister. After asking whether the club had officially announced the move and being told that it hadn't, Meister said, "I don't have any comment. I don't respond to rumors."
Throughout spring training, whenever Francona was asked whether Wakefield might be a candidate for the bullpen to accommodate the six starting pitchers the Sox had, the manager repeatedly answered that Wakefield was a starter.
Wakefield, who had offseason back surgery and surpassed expectations by being ready to go from the outset of camp, also had been adamant that his role with the team was as a starter. He asserted at the start of camp and reiterated several times that the team concurred that he fit best as a starter.
"We talked about that," Wakefield said at the outset of camp. "I think Tito and Theo and John (Farrell) all think we're a better team with me in the rotation. I eat up innings, I do whatever it takes to help us win, and I think we agreed on that aspect."
Wakefield also made no secret of the fact that collecting the 18 wins necessary to pass Cy Young and Roger Clemens (192 wins) as the winningest pitcher in Sox history was a goal dear to him. In Tuesday's start, he passed Young to move into second place in innings thrown by a Sox pitcher, with Clemens just ahead.
At the same time, though, the Red Sox made it clear they thought the 25-year-old Buchholz had made dramatic strides in a year's time, especially after his midseason return from Pawtucket last season. In 10 of 16 starts after his July 17 recall, Buchholz gave up two runs or fewer, which earned him his first playoff start, one in which he gave up two runs in five innings to the Los Angeles Angels in Game 3 of their division series.
Farrell spoke at the end of camp and made it clear that while Buchholz had an option left and could be returned to Pawtucket, his future was in Boston.
"This is a young pitcher we're totally committed to,'' Farrell said. "We feel his learning and continued establishment at the big league level is where it's going to take place."
On Thursday, Buchholz carried a two-hit shutout into the seventh, when he gave up three successive hits that accounted for two runs -- a double to Josh Hamilton, a single to Nelson Cruz and double to David Murphy -- and later gave up an RBI bunt single to Andres Blanco, a ball that Buchholz threw past first baseman Kevin Youkilis into right field.
"I thought he was tremendous," Francona said. "For the most part, though he threw 25 pitches in the second inning, he threw all strikes, established all his pitches. His fastball he drove down into the zone, got swings and misses, slider, cutter, curveball. He pitched tremendous."
So Buchholz remains in the rotation, while Matsuzaka -- who did not speak with reporters -- returns. Wakefield, meanwhile, joins David Ortiz and Jason Varitek as long-time fixtures on this team with drastically reduced roles. What impact that has on the clubhouse remains to be seen, but the possibility of smoldering discontent is very real.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.