Buchholz's next test may come in a game
Sox will evaluate how righty rebounds from session
NEW YORK -- The rain kept Clay Buchholz indoors on Friday, but that didn't stop the Red Sox righty from pitching another simulated game. He threw two innings in the indoor cage at Yankee Stadium. The first was 17 pitches with a hitter standing but not swinging. The second inning was 23 pitches with swings.
The next time Buchholz pitches, it might be in a game for the Red Sox. It won't happen this weekend in New York. But Buchholz, who's recovering from a stress fracture in his back, could pitch as early as Monday, when the Sox open a three-game series against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
"Certainly, we're going to see how he bounces back, but the next thing is probably a game," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I can't imagine it being before Monday, but I would think that, as long as he bounces back OK and he feels OK, he'll be eligible to pitch in a game."
In a perfect world, Buchholz acknowledges that he'd prefer to have another touch-and-feel session or two before facing Major League hitters. But time is running out. The regular season ends on Wednesday night, and the Red Sox need to see an in-game evaluation before knowing for sure if Buchholz can help out of the bullpen in the postseason.
"That's the tough spot here," Buchholz said. "I'm sure they wouldn't want to activate me without seeing live hitters in live games. I think that's the one thing in this situation [that's hard], is trying to speed up everything and make sure I'm ready to go into a game and everything feels good in a game."
Considering Buchholz hasn't thrown a pitch in a game since June 16, the Red Sox were pleased with how he looked in Friday's session.
"You know what? He looked really good," Francona said. "I know it's in the cage -- balls didn't go very far -- but he threw the ball well and he stayed in his delivery, and I think he felt really good physically. So that was good news."
Though Buchholz hardly has any experience as a reliever, he could become an important piece in a Boston bullpen that has been scrambling to find dependability beyond Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves.
Theo 'on the same page' with Francona
NEW YORK -- Amid a drastic September swoon that has put the Red Sox in an unexpected fight for a postseason spot, nearly every issue surrounding the team has been dissected on talk radio and in the blogsphere.
But the latest one was a bit surprising.
Has there been an "increasing disconnect" between general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, as MLB.com and MLB Network's Peter Gammons stated in a national radio interview on Thursday? And if that's the case, could Francona's job be on the line if the September swoon by the Red Sox ends without a spot in the postseason?
Epstein emphatically said there is no disconnect and lauded Francona.
"There's no disconnect between me and Tito," said Epstein. "I think anyone who has been around the club on a daily basis will see that. We talk several times a day, and we spend a ton of time together. I was in [Francona's office] today laughing around and joking like I was yesterday, like I was the day before.
"Obviously, probably less laughing and joking this month than previously because of the way things are going. [But], no, we're on the same page. We spend a ton of time talking, trying to figure out how to put this team in position to succeed. For eight years, I've respected and admired him. I believe the feeling is mutual."
If anything, Epstein thinks that the statement by Gammons and all the outside chatter that has ensued because of it is the natural byproduct of Boston's 5-16 record in September.
"This is what happens when teams play poorly down the stretch. There's a tendency to try to turn a stretch of bad baseball into a soap opera," Epstein said. "We're not going to let that happen. Have we played good baseball this month? No. Are there any sort of deeper issues, interpersonal problems or dramatics around here? No. this is not a soap opera. This is a team that hasn't played well all of a sudden in two or three weeks. We need to go out and win some games. Tito and I are on the same page. There's not a disconnect."
The Red Sox hold a two-year option for Francona following this season.
"Well, he's under contract and then there's a two-year option this year, and we're going to take the same stance that we do with players who have options and everything," Epstein said. "This is an offseason issue. We're struggling to turn this thing around, and we're going to turn this thing around. But that's the focus -- on the field. That's how Tito would want it; that's how I want it. We'll deal with offseason issues in the offseason."
Francona made it clear his situation is the last thing he thinks about at this juncture.
"I guess I'd better address that a little bit so I don't have to address it more," Francona said. "I don't really feel any different than I ever have. The organization not only has the right, but it's their obligation to get the right person, the person they think is the best. Other than that, I think it's disrespectful for me to spend one waking moment thinking about my situation. We need to win games, so that's how I intend to do it."
Both Epstein and Francona expressed confidence that the Red Sox -- who were rained out on Friday night at Yankee Stadium and will play a day-night doubleheader on Sunday -- can climb out of their current funk.
Francona didn't like it when a reporter asked when the "breaking point" was for the team.
"It's not broken yet," Francona said. "I'm telling you, it's not broken yet. We're two games up. We're hoping for a turning point tonight. I don't need to sit here -- I'll try to answer your questions, but I'd much rather spend the energy on how we're going to beat the Yankees. If we do that, we're going to be in good shape."
The one thing Epstein takes solace in is that the Red Sox looked equally bad when they started the season 0-6 and 2-10.
"These are the same guys who started 0-6, who started 2-10 and fought hard to get off of that and played great baseball for four months to put us in position to have a special season, even with a tough couple of weeks like this," Epstein said. "We've talked about it in the clubhouse; we've talked about it with the players, and they feel the same way. It's what happens after you get knocked [down] that matters. Everyone gets knocked [down]. We were [down] in April, and our players dug deep."
Within the clubhouse, Francona doesn't sense his players panicking or losing confidence.
"They know what's going on," Francona said. "They know where we are in the standings. They know how important it is to all of us. There have been enough of those guys in there that I've been around for a long time that I believe in them that we'll find a way to get this accomplished."
Though it's hard to remember, given the way the Red Sox have played of late, they still control their own destiny, heading into play on Saturday up 2 1/2 games in the American League Wild Card race with six to play.
"We had a rough homestand which was preceded by a rough road trip, but we still have an opportunity to get where we want to go," Epstein said. "It's on us to turn this thing around. We don't have any excuses. We don't have an excuse in the world. It's time to step up and show what we're made of. This is a stretch of disappointing play, and we own that. We can't run away from that.
"It's certainly not too late. We're fortunate in a sense that we can wake up and play one good week of baseball and then have a great opportunity in the postseason. It's time to do it, though."
The Red Sox haven't won back-to-back games since taking both ends of a doubleheader against the A's on Aug. 27.
"I will say this -- win a game or two in a row here, I do think this team could feel unburdened a little bit and get dangerous in a hurry," Epstein said. "It starts with winning one game."
The Sox will try to start that process on Saturday, when Jon Lester takes the mound against New York's Freddy Garcia.
Despite struggles, Lackey stays on turn
NEW YORK -- For a few days, Red Sox manager Terry Francona hedged on who would start Sunday's 6:30 p.m. ET game against the Yankees, which will now be part of a day-night doubleheader. He finally decided to keep the struggling John Lackey on his regular turn.
One alternative would have been to move reliever Alfredo Aceves to the rotation.
"I think there are a lot of things that go into it," said Francona. "One is continuity, or consistency. Everybody's bringing Aceves' name up, and I suppose that's as they should. He's been such a good pitcher. The balance for me is, 'Can we possibly use Aceves maybe five out of the next six days, as opposed to one day where he's not totally stretched out if he pitches good?'
"The guy that we're going to want to get to [in the bullpen] is Aceves. I just think that's what I meant more when I listened to a lot of opinions, and then I decided that I know this is how I feel."
Lackey is 12-12 with a 6.49 ERA.
"It's hard to explain," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "If we could pinpoint a reason, we would have addressed it by now. It's a number of factors. It's very difficult to explain. He's got a much better track record than this. We have to spend a lot of time trying to get him back to what he was."
Lackey is in the closing stretch of Year 2 in a deal that will pay him $82.5 million over five years.
Taking swings, Youkilis, Drew make strides
NEW YORK -- Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew both had a little forward progress on Friday, taking swings indoors.
Youkilis, who has been dealing with a painful sports hernia injury, did only tee work. Drew, who last played for the Red Sox on July 19, took batting practice.
"J.D. did OK," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I told Youk to come see me tomorrow after he kind of bounces back. He still feels it. What I don't want is to ask him to do something he shouldn't be doing. We'll sit down tomorrow."
Drew, originally shut down with a left shoulder impingement, was close to being ready to return to the Sox on Sept. 1. But those plans got thwarted when he broke his right middle finger during a Minor League rehab assignment.
Is Drew close to being ready to be activated?
"I don't know," Francona said. "We'll see. I don't know. He hasn't done a ton yet. We can always activate him. But we'll see."