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Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Updated: March 12, 12:10 PM ET
Beckett likely not going to Japan due to bad back

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox haven't broken the news to the good people of Japan yet that Josh Beckett isn't going to be starting Opening Day in Tokyo.

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But it's becoming more apparent by the minute now that Beckett almost certainly won't make the trip to Tokyo for the start of the Major League Baseball season.

Manager Terry Francona told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the Red Sox haven't made any decisions yet on Beckett, but he sounded like a man who understands that two weeks until Opening Day don't leave much time for the pitcher's back to heal.

"I don't think we know [for sure] yet," Francona said. "But we're certainly not going to rush him back to pitch a game March 24 if he's not ready."

Beckett reported Tuesday that he was "feeling better" than the day before, when his back was bothering him so much that he actually got "worried," he said. And Francona said late Tuesday afternoon that Beckett had had "a good day" of treatment.

But a good day of treatment doesn't exactly translate to five or six innings in Tokyo, not when that game in Tokyo is just two weeks away -- and the departure of that flight from Florida to Tokyo is only eight days away.

Do the math for yourself. Beckett still hasn't pitched in a real spring training game. He threw two innings against Boston College on Feb. 28, then came back to work three innings of a "B" game against the Twins four days later.

But he never made it past his warm-up pitches last Saturday, hasn't thrown since and doesn't even have a schedule to resume throwing yet. So the Red Sox clearly aren't even focusing on Japan for him anymore. They're likely shooting now for either April 1 or 2 in Oakland, or April 4-6 in Toronto.

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"The idea is just to give Beckett the respect to get better when he gets better," Francona said.

Beckett's injury has been officially described by the club as "discomfort" in his lower back. The Boston Globe reported that an MRI showed no disk damage. So he's likely to remain in Florida after the team departs to make one or two starts in minor league spring training games.

That, of course, is on the condition that his back continues to improve. And it's safe to assume the Red Sox medical staff didn't recommend that 17-hour plane flight as their idea of ideal back therapy.

Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.