Wakefield to pitch at Triple-A on Saturday

Wakefield close to returning to Sox

BOSTON -- Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, whose presence has been missed badly during the second half, is on the verge of reclaiming his spot in the Boston Red Sox's rotation.

Wakefield will pitch for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday in a start at Gwinnett, Ga. His next start after that will be for the Red Sox, meaning Wakefield could return as early as Aug. 20 for the finale of a six-game road trip at Toronto.

At a time when the rotation has been spotty beyond Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the Sox could desperately use Wakefield, who won 11 games in the first half and made the All-Star team for the first time.

"It stinks, it's really bad," Wakefield said of being a spectator during a time the team is struggling. "I've been trying and doing the best I can do to get back on the field quickly, but this injury has not allowed me to do that. The doctors tell me it's more of a time issue. I got the cortisone shot, which relieved a lot of the pain. Now it's just a matter of healing itself and getting stronger."

Wakefield's initial injury was a lower back strain. And just when his back started to feel better, he developed a nerve issue in his left calf that made it hard to move.

The simulated game that Wakefield pitched on Monday at Fenway Park was a significant step forward. What Wakefield gathered from that is he can cover first base. His shoulder has been fine all along.

"I was able to do that yesterday," Wakefield said. "It's a little slower, but there's no pain and I don't think there's a chance of me re-injuring myself, and that's why I think it's smart for me to go down and make a rehab start. It was a big step. I knew I could do it. I just wanted to prove to myself, and prove to [general manager] Theo [Epstein], [manager Terry Francona] and [pitching coach] John [Farrell] that it could be done. Actually, it helped out getting my pitch count up to 50 after doing all my pregame stuff. It was a lot of work yesterday."

George Kottaras, Wakefield's personal catcher who is also on the disabled list, will also kick off his rehab start in that Saturday game at Gwinnett.

Francona, for now, will keep his options open before determining exactly which date Wakefield pitches again for Boston.

"With the day off coming up on Monday, it certainly gives us some flexibility on what we do going forward," Francona said. "We don't want him to go down and throw necessarily 100 pitches.

"We just want him to throw three or four innings and just make a progression. We can have him come back and pitch for us and still cover it and get him back in the swing of things. Again, he's been doing enough throwing where his arm is good. We just don't want something to go wrong and make a mistake. We don't need him to run the 100-meter dash. We don't want him to cover first and have something go wrong. That would be bad."

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston's other starting pitcher on the disabled list, fired a bullpen session on Tuesday in Fort Myers, Fla., marking the first time he's thrown from the mound since going on the disabled list on June 20. Matsuzaka threw only fastballs. The session was monitored by Goose Gregson, the pitching coach for the Gulf Coast Red Sox.

"Dice-K threw 40 pitches, and all indications were that it went really well," Francona said. "I think Dice was kind of excited. I think his command was better than expected, although not where it's certainly going to be. Goose called and was really excited. The next progression is in three days, he'll throw 55 pitches, with all his pitches incorporated. And then three days later, 65, using all his pitches."

The Red Sox expect Matsuzaka back in the rotation in September.

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