FORT MYERS, Fla. — The top of the rotation seems to be purring along.

A day after Jon Lester dazzled with 10 strikeouts over seven shutout innings, Josh Beckett cruised along Tuesday, throwing a one-hit shutout over five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. He struck out five.

“I thought he threw a lot of really good pitches today,” Boston Manager Bobby Valentine said.

The only complaint might be that Beckett needed 84 pitches to get through five innings. Not terrible but he did walk three.

He began the second inning with two of those walks. After a sacrifice, Beckett struck out Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton to end the inning.

“You don’t want to put yourself in too many of those jams during the year,” Beckett said, “but it’s nice to pitch out of one to kind of refresh yourself that you can do it.”

Clay Buchholz, the other member of Boston’s big three starters, will throw in Pawtucket’s game today because the major league team is off. Aaron Cook will start for the Sea Dogs. Both games are at 1 p.m. at Fenway South’s minor league fields.

BOSTON BEAT the Rays 8-0 on Tuesday, outhitting Tampa Bay, 9-3. While the Red Sox pitched Beckett, the Rays used six relievers, opting to throw James Shields in a minor league game at their camp in Port Charlotte.

Cody Ross hit a three-run homer, clearing the left-field wall in the second inning. It was his fourth home run this spring. Dustin Pedroia tripled in a run.

Three Red Sox relievers followed Beckett — Scott Atchison (one hit/11/3 innings), Franklin Morales (one hit/one inning) and Mark Melancon (0/ 11/3).

Melancon entered with a 7.50 ERA.

“He went from scattering the ball, missing location by too much to always hitting the glove. He’s almost where he needs to be,” Valentine said.

THE LINEUP featured freshly named starting shortstop Mike Aviles in the leadoff spot, and he could stay there.

This was not just a lineup thrown together for an exhibition game. Aviles batted first, followed by Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez.

“Trying to warm up to it, see if I can see it,” Valentine said of Aviles in the top spot.

Aviles crushed the ball in the first inning — right into the third baseman’s glove — then grounded out and flied out before leaving the game.

“He quickly strikes fear in a pitcher’s heart. How he led off the game today gets a guy doubting his stuff in a hurry,” Valentine said.

But Aviles is not known for working counts and drawing walks (he has none this spring), attributes associated with a leadoff hitter.

“Mike doesn’t swing at the first pitch all the time,” Valentine said, “but I don’t know if Ellsbury is really a count-grinding guy.”

LARS ANDERSON was the other player assigned to Pawtucket on Tuesday, with Jose Iglesias. Unlike Iglesias, there was never a doubt that Anderson would not make the major league team, as long as fellow first baseman Gonzalez is healthy.

Anderson, 24, batted .343 in 18 spring games, with four doubles and a home run.

“He had a great camp,” Valentine said. “He added to our scouting report with his ability to drive the ball to center and left-center.

“On another team, he could have made the big leagues.”

Valentine wants Anderson to play the outfield along with first base in Pawtucket to increase his value.

OTHER CUTS made Tuesday included three players not on the 40-man roster — pitchers Justin Germano and Doug Mathis, and outfielder Josh Kroeger. All three were minor league free agents and are expected to end up with Pawtucket.

CARL CRAWFORD won’t travel with the team when it heads for the opener in Detroit next week.

Valentine said Crawford can better rehab his surgically repaired left wrist in Florida.

Crawford suffered a setback this spring when he tried to rush his rehab. The Red Sox won’t let him do that again.

“He thinks he can play now. The wrist is no problem at all,” Valentine said. (But) “he’s resigned to the fact that there is a program that the medical staff has him on, that he’s going to stay on religiously.”

JOHN LACKEY may suffer from the biggest foot-in-mouth issues among the Red Sox, now that Jonathan Papelbon is with the Phillies.

Lackey was quoted in Tuesday’s Boston Globe, concerning criticism of pitchers drinking beer: “This is retarded. It’s not like we were sitting up there doing it every night.”

Later Tuesday, Lackey issued a prepared statement through the Red Sox: “I apologize for my thoughtless choice of words that appeared in print I meant no harm, and am sorry to all I offended.”

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases