Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Penny scratched from Thursday start

Pitcher Brad Penny won't make his first scheduled appearance of the spring on Thursday thanks to a setback suffered in a batting-practice session on Sunday. Penny, manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell all said Penny couldn't get loose after 25 pitches and was shut down from there.

Francona told reporters before Tuesday's game that Penny would be pushed back in order to get more strengthening work in on his shoulder.

"When a guy gets to the mound in a game, from that point forward, the shoulder strengthening part is pretty much, you're not going to get stronger," Francona said. "That's just the way it goes. We've said all along that we really want to strengthen that shoulder. ... We talked to Brad and said, 'OK, look, this is a long year. We think maybe we can make some more strides by keeping you on flat ground and in the bullpen for just the forseeable future, not a long time, and getting a little bit more strength.'"

Francona, though, didn't want to call it a setback or even a precaution.

"We want him to be able to go out there when it's time to go and let it fly," he said. "There really aren't red flags. I guess I need to make that point. He's done a hell of a job from where he started when we got him. They keep testing him, and he's getting stronger and stronger and stronger. We just feel like we can make this even better. ...

"He could pitch Thursday. I just don't know that it's in everybody's long-term best interests."

When Francona was asked if it was realistic to expect Penny to start the season, though, he hesitated.

"Our thought was, coming out, to have him go a little bit behind everybody else anyway," he said. "I don't know, and I'm not sure I have a whole lot of concern about that anyways. With all the off-days you have at the beginning of the season, what we're really trying to do is get him healthy so he can go out and pitch like he can pitch. For me to sit here and go, 'I've like to get him for that third game' would be a little bit of the wrong message to send."

(That's not really true. With a day off scheduled right after Opening Day, the Red Sox wouldn't need a fifth starter the first time through the rotation. Still, though, after a day off on April 7, the Red Sox play eight straight games without a day off. If ace Josh Beckett made his second start on April 11, they'd need either Penny or someone else to pitch on April 12 to avoid forcing Jon Lester pitch on three days' rest. And if Penny is ready, he easily could pitch on April 11 and give Beckett five days' rest to keep everything in order. It's not the third game that a fifth starter becomes necessary, but it's still the fifth or sixth game.)

Penny met with reporters early Tuesday morning, before Francona's morning session, and he said at that point that he didn't know yet if he'd still make his first start of the spring on Thursday against Puerto Rico. All he knew was that Sunday's session hadn't gone the way he wanted.

"I don't think the shoulder strength was quite where it needed to be yet, so the workload I was doing, ... it was better to take it easy right now than to get out there the first week of April and have it flare up on me," he said. "We're staying on a shoulder program, still going to play catch. I'm just trying to get my shoulder strength where it needs to be."

Penny, the National League's All-Star starter in 2006, became available on the cheap this offseason thanks to the shoulder injury that ruined his 2008 season. He made just two starts after June 14, but even before that, he was 5-9 with a 5.88 ERA.

He said he felt OK -- Francona called it a "blah" side -- and that he probably could have pitched had there been any actual need for him to pitch. But with a full month still left in this super-sized spring training, there was an opportunity for him to take a step back and do some extra strength work.

"This is a good year to have the extra time, I guess," he said. "I'm just going to keep working, doing the shoulder program, and I'm pretty sure I'll get there."

Clay Buchholz will get the start on Thursday; the righthander originally was going to piggy-back on Penny's start and pitch the third and fourth innings. Prospect Michael Bowden likely will get to pick up an extra inning or two.

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