Notes: Dice-K builds arm strength

Notes: Dice-K builds arm strength

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Even Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't expect to venture from the dugout for a fourth time on Sunday. That wasn't the plan. Yet suddenly, there he was, climbing the mound at Dodgertown for what appeared to be a fourth inning of work.

"I thought that I would be done after three," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter.

He thought wrong. Although the Sox had penciled Matsuzaka in for only those three innings of work on Sunday, he hadn't yet hit his target of 70 pitches when he came back to the dugout after the third. That gave Red Sox manager Terry Francona another opportunity to force Matsuzaka into a situation where he'd have to pitch after cooling down for a bit.

Five pitches later, he was done. Mission accomplished.

"Sometimes that's important as we try to build some arm strength," Francona said. "Let him sit for five minutes and go out and throw his warmup pitches and start another inning. I think that will help build him toward his next outing."

Though Los Angeles center fielder Matt Kemp's three-run homer -- the only blemish on Matsuzaka's line -- was a product of leaving pitches high in the zone, Francona was more concerned on Sunday with a different sort of trouble. Matsuzaka consistently jumped ahead of Dodgers hitters but couldn't finish them off, instead allowing several batters to creep back into the count until they could find a pitch to hit.

"He ran into some deep counts where he really didn't need to," Francona said. "During the regular season, we don't want to do that. We want to put guys away when we have a chance."

Matsuzaka allowed just the three runs in total, striking out five and walking three.

Center of attention: Coco Crisp's lingering groin discomfort has made winning the starting center-field job over rookie Jacoby Ellsbury an even more daunting prospect than it otherwise would be. Gauging the battle has become all but impossible.

"We're trying to get Coco ready for the year," Francona said. "I'll make decisions on who's supposed to play and when, and we'll tell the players like we always do. It's hard getting him prepared for the season, because he's having trouble getting out there. That's my focus."

Francona wasn't pleased with a report in the Boston Herald on Saturday, which blared the headline "Cuckoo Coco" on the front page. The accompanying article detailed Crisp's struggle to fight for his job and recover from injury all at the same time.

"I didn't think that was very professional," Francona said. "It makes me answer questions that I shouldn't have to answer if people are doing their jobs correctly."

As for the sore groin, it no longer affects Crisp's ability to move laterally. Running forward in quick bursts continues to vex him, however, and remains the greatest reason why Crisp has now been absent from all but two Grapefruit League games. He did not make the trip across state, and won't return to the lineup until Tuesday at the earliest.

Chance to shine: Josh Beckett's injury on Saturday gave reliever Manny Delcarmen a rare opportunity to start a game, and yet another chance to prove his skeptics wrong. Despite having no idea that he would pitch so early in the game, and despite having to warmup at a moment's notice, Delcarmen pitched two perfect innings.

"If we had done that two years ago, he'd have walked six people," Francona said. "I'm telling you. He wasn't supposed to pitch then. He came in, he took his time and he got outs. He's growing up."

Delcarmen has now thrown four scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play, allowing just one hit. This success comes after he enjoyed a breakout season last year, finishing with a 2.05 ERA in 44 innings.

"It's just a natural progression," Francona said. "Guys that started getting good and they want to be better, you see that change. It doesn't happen to everybody, but when it happens, it's good."

Sox bits: Shortstop Julio Lugo remained back in Fort Myers, Fla., where he'll see team medical director Thomas Gill on Monday. Lugo has missed seven straight games with lower back tightness. ... The Sox took a private jet to Vero Beach, Fla., on Sunday morning, turning what would have been more than a three-hour drive into a 23-minute flight. "Our ownership really took care of us," Francona said.

Coming up: They've come all this way, so the Red Sox might as well play one more game on Florida's east coast. This one will come on Monday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where lefty Jon Lester will make his third Grapefruit League start, followed by relievers Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez. The Mets will counter with their prized offseason acquisition, Johan Santana, in a 1:15 p.m. ET start.

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