Not that "soon" means Thursday or Friday -- or even next Monday.
But Matsuzaka is close to coming off the 15-day disabled list. He tested his strained right shoulder Wednesday afternoon in a 47-pitch bullpen session, and by all accounts -- including Dice-K's -- the session went well.
Like Francona, Matsuzaka tempered his optimism about the session with caution, knowing that just because he felt all right Wednesday, doesn't necessarily mean he'll feel all right Thursday or Friday. Besides, even he knows he's not ready to reclaim his spot in Boston's rotation."I don't know exactly when I'll be able to pitch in a Major League ballgame," Matsuzaka said. "But I definitely feel I'm getting closer and closer." The plan is for Matsuzaka, 28, to throw a bullpen session Saturday in St. Petersburg, where the Red Sox begin a four-game series against the Rays on Thursday night. From there, if all goes well, he'll go on a rehab assignment. How many rehab starts he'll need is uncertain, Francona said. But that didn't seem an issue with Matsuzaka, who said he planned to follow whatever plan Francona, pitching coach John Farrell and the training staff cobble together for him. The pitcher's looking at the long haul, not the short haul. After piling up innings for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic, Matsuzaka isn't trying to rush back. "I hope when I look back on this period -- at the end of the season -- I can say I was glad I took that time," he said.
Justice B. Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.