FORT MYERS, Fla. — The starters are in.

Red Sox Manager Terry Francona finally announced his rotation to begin the season, and the only slight surprise is an April 11 start for Clay Buchholz.

Josh Beckett will pitch the opener April 4, followed by Jon Lester (April 6), John Lackey (April 7), Tim Wakefield (April 9), Beckett again (April 10) and then Buchholz (April 11).

After April 11, the rotation will continue in order – Lester, Lackey, Wakefield, Beckett and Buchholz.

With so many days off early (April 5, 8 and 13), the Red Sox could have gone with a four-man rotation, not needing Buchholz until April 18.

“That’s something we actually thought about a lot,” Francona said. “We all felt like this balance is good. Nobody is going to sit too much. I think we’re all comfortable. There are things that can change with weather.”

And there likely will be other changes when Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready. Bothered by minor back and neck pains, Matsuzaka made his first major-league spring-training appearance Thursday. After a likely brief stint on the disabled list, along with rehab starts, he should be ready to join Boston in late April.

 

MIKE LOWELL experienced a setback Friday.

Batting in the first inning, he fouled a pitch off his left knee and immediately dropped to the ground. Francona and a trainer came out quickly.

After several minutes, Lowell was helped to his feet and with assistance, walked gingerly to the dugout.

Lowell was diagnosed with a contusion. X-rays showed no damage.

“But he’s going to be pretty sore,” Francona said.

Lowell, besides recovering from thumb surgery before spring training, is continually working on his mobility after hip surgery in 2008.

 

SEVERAL TRANSACTIONS took place, starting with the swap-out of veteran left-handed relievers. Boston released Brian Shouse, 41, and signed Scott Schoeneweis, 36, who was recently released by the Brewers.

Boston also traded for San Francisco utility infielder Kevin Frandsen for a player to be named later or cash.

Frandsen, 27, has appeared in 174 games over four seasons with the Giants, with a .240 average. He can play several positions, including shortstop. The two healthy utility players in camp, Bill Hall and Tug Hulett, don’t have a lot of shortstop experience.

And in minor-league camp, four players were released, according to soxprospects.com, including two Sea Dogs, outfielder Reid Engel and relief pitcher Josh Papelbon.

Also cut were shortstop Tom DiBenedetto, 24, who never reached beyond regular Class A, and left-handed reliever D. Tyler Wilson, 23, who was signed out of independent ball last month.

Engel, 22, was a utility outfielder for the Sea Dogs last year, batting .234. Papelbon, 26, the younger brother of Jonathan Papelbon, reached Portland at the end of last season. He had a 2.87 ERA in advanced Class A.

 

DUSTIN PEDROIA was kept out of the lineup one more day to make sure everything is OK with his wrist, which he slightly sprained Tuesday.

When reporters gathered around Pedroia’s locker, he decided to have a little fun.

“It’s not wrist-related,” Pedroia said. “I was benched.

“(Manager Terry Francona) benched me because I said he looks like Corrado Soprano.”

Finally, Pedroia smiled. He’s chided Francona before about resembling the character in the HBO show “The Sopranos,” played by Dominic Chianese.

Francona shook his head when he heard about Pedroia’s joke.

“I’ve never watched ‘The Sopranos’ ” he said. “But I can’t imagine that’s a compliment.”

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]