Though Tim Wakefield will make his scheduled start on Sunday against the Orioles, the veteran knuckleballer has been informed that he is likely to move to the bullpen after that, two sources confirmed to MLB.com on Thursday night.
WEEI.com and CSNNE.com were the first to report the likely move of Wakefield to the bullpen. That means that the Red Sox will stick with Clay Buchholz in the rotation, and the 25-year-old righty backed that confidence with a strong performance (6 2/3 innings, six hits, three runs, one walk, 10 strikeouts) in Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Rangers.
The Red Sox didn't give much thought to going with six starters.
"No, I think you're doing too many starters an injustice," Francona said before Thursday's game. "I think during the summer months, when you're running into a long stretch and guys are tired, I think you might be able to do something like that for a short period of time, but I don't think that's something that would work now."
Matsuzaka, who started his season on the disabled list because of nagging back and neck woes during Spring Training, had a solid Minor League rehab assignment, going 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts for Triple-A Pawtucket.
Though Wakefield was moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen quite a bit from 1999-2002, he has been used exclusively as a starter during Francona's regime, which started in 2004. Under Francona, Wakefield was used only twice as a reliever during regular-season play, and both appearances were in '04. The last time Wakefield was used as a reliever by Francona was the '04 American League Championship Series.
Wakefield, who is 43, has 189 career wins and would love to hit the 200 mark before he retires. He has 175 wins for the Sox, putting him 17 from tying the club's all-time record, shared by Cy Young and Roger Clemens.
It remains to be seen if Wakefield's move to the bullpen will prevent him from reaching those milestones. And, of course, there's always the chance that injuries or a dropoff in performance by someone else could lead to his return to the rotation.
Wakefield is 0-1 with a 6.38 ERA in three starts this season. As a whole, the Red Sox's starters have struggled, going 3-6 with a 5.63 ERA through the first 16 games. It has been surprising, because the rotation was expected to be the strength of the team.
"I don't think it's just one thing," Francona said. "It's something different every night. I think, uncharacteristically, we've certainly walked more guys than I think we're comfortable with. We've got these teams that are trying to put pressure on us running the bases, and we're giving up hits and walks at a high rate. We're not making it easier on anybody.
"But I also believe in these guys, and they will do better. I definitely believe that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.