Flu-ridden Sox slowly getting better

Flu-ridden Red Sox slowly getting better

BOSTON -- Though you can still hear the coughs and the deeper than normal voices throughout the clubhouse, the Red Sox are getting healthier. This, on the heels of a week in which a rampant flu bug has caused some serious havoc.

Ace Josh Beckett was among those who got sick, and that seemed to directly lead to the stiff neck that forced him out of his start on Tuesday. Beckett was back to baseball activities before Thursday's game, even throwing a side session, and he should be good to go for his start on Sunday against the Rays.

Nobody has been hit harder by this flu than catcher Jason Varitek, who was out of the lineup for the fifth straight day on Thursday, but is finally improving.

"When [Varitek] left last night, he was hopeful he'd be available today," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Him saying he's available and us thinking he should be available may be two different things."

Varitek wouldn't catch anyway on Friday at Tropicana Field, because Tim Wakefield is pitching. But the captain will probably be back in there on Saturday.

Reliever Manny Delcarmen -- a key setup man for the Sox -- was also out of the mix the last two games with the flu. He might be able to pitch on Thursday.

"Manny Delcarmen said he feels much better," Francona said. "Now, we'll see how he tolerates going out there and doing some work."

Then there is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was scratched from his start at the last minute on Wednesday because of -- you guessed it -- the flu.

Matsuzaka will stay back in Boston this weekend instead of joining the team in St. Petersburg, Fla. He will do his workouts at Fenway and he appears to be on track to pitch on Tuesday night at home against the Blue Jays.

So in a series against the Angels in which the rotation was Beckett, Matsuzaka and Lester, the starting alignment ended up being David Pauley, Lester and Justin Masterson.

"This has been pretty unique," Francona said. "We've been doing some scrambling. I do think this is where being together for a while comes into play -- where it helps. [General manager] Theo [Epstein] and [assistant general manager] Jed [Hoyer] are in there, and it's like, 'OK, here's what we do.' They know me. Our conversations are quick. We get to where we want to go. I think it's helpful."

Making things a little easier for Francona on Thursday is that center fielder Coco Crisp was back in the mix after missing just over a week with a sore right hamstring. Crisp started and batted eighth while Jacoby Ellsbury led off and played right field. J.D. Drew got the day off.

Third baseman Mike Lowell -- on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left thumb -- remains on track to play three games for Triple-A Pawtucket this weekend and then be activated for Tuesday's game against Toronto.

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