NEW YORK -- The Red Sox have decided on 23-year-old righty Junichi Tazawa to take the ball Tuesday night at Fenway against the Tigers, filling the rotation spot that was vacated when John Smoltz was designated for assignment.
Though Tazawa surrendered a two-run walk-off homer to Alex Rodriguez in the 15th inning of his Major League debut on Friday, the Red Sox have a lot of confidence in his talent and his poise, as evidenced by selecting him for a Major League start this early in his career. Last year at this time, Tazawa was pitching in the industrial leagues in Japan.
"He didn't throw enough where I think [a relief stint] will affect him," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "If he'd have thrown more, we wouldn't have done this. There's certainly other names or possibilities we could have used. I think having him here now, and putting him in that slot -- moving forward, if we need to do something, this creates a little bit of flexibility.
"Whereas, if we send him down, call somebody back up, we're losing some of that flexibility that we need. It's been a couple tough weeks for us. I don't think anybody thinks he won't be good as a starter anyway."
Tazawa, a starter by trade, is looking forward the opportunity. In 20 starts in the Minors this season, Tazawa was 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA.
"I will do my best for the given opportunity," Tazawa said. "I'm a little bit used to pitching as a starter. I think I can calm myself down a little bit better this time [than the last time in New York]. I think the crowd at Fenway will support me a lot."
It remains to be seen how long Tazawa will be in the rotation. Much of that will probably depend on how soon Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka can return from the disabled list.
Wakefield will throw two innings in a simulated game on Monday at Fenway. His back, the original cause of his move to the disabled list, actually feels fine. So does his right shoulder. The problem is the weakness in his left calf, believed to be a nerve issue.
"He's not ready to pitch yet because of his calf," said Francona. "Well, I take that back, he's actually ready to pitch, he's not ready to play the game. If the team we play promises they won't bunt, we'd pitch him. That's kind of where we're at."
Matsuzaka is also making progress, though he's not expected to be activated until September. On Tuesday, Matsuzaka will throw 40 pitches in his first side session since going on the disabled list. He will have two more bullpen sessions after that, each three days apart, before the next step is determined.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.