By Maureen Mullen and Sean McAdam
BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz was not able to finish his bullpen session on Wednesday and his return to the mound remains uncertain.
Before Wednesday’s afternoon game against the Rockies, he attempted to throw from a mound for the first time since his last start, June 8 against the Angels. But Buchholz had to shut down his session after about 15-18 pitches. He will undergo an MRI on Wednesday.
Buchholz has been on the DL, retroactive to June 9, with a neck strain and an ailing right trapezius muscle.
"It's not quite there yet, you know?,” Buchholz said. “Playing long toss, playing catch, it feels fine. I guess it's just that incline [of the mound] right now. It's not something that's a terrible feeling. It's just I want it to be gone. I don't feel like pitching, going out for two starts and having it flare up again."
"So, I'm going to stand strong on (insisting that) before I pitch again, or before I get off a mound in a game situation, I'm not going to feel anything. That's where we're at right now. Been told and reinforced multiple times that it's nothing with the (rotator) cuff or anything. The cuff's as strong as it has been since spring. It's just something lingering right now that I want to get completely over before I get off a mound.”
Buchholz acknowledged he could pitch now if he had to.
"It's not anything that I couldn't go out and pitch with,” he said. “But it's sort of the same thing I felt when I missed the start [at the end of May] and started the game against the Yankees on June 2]. Felt fine. Then it had to be that throw I made (against the Angels) in an awkward position. That's sort of where I'm at right now. I feel fine playing long toss, I feel fine throwing hard playing long toss. It's just getting the arm slot, I guess, off the mound is a little bit different as far as the mound is.''
"Being a competitor, everyone is out there wanting to compete. It's hard to tell yourself to go 80 percent when you're pitching at this level. I've never been one to do that. That's sort of the reason I don't feel like it's right for me to go out and pitch when I'm 80 percent because I think I'm doing the team an injustice by risking further injury.''
"It felt better today. It's just still there. We'll see what the staff wants me to do and see if there's any way to treat it differently and go from there.''
Manager John Farrell found the silver lining in his ace’s latest setback.
“The positive in this is that he threw today as intense as he did yesterday from flat ground, long toss,” Farrell said. “The ball was getting out of his hand good. When he got on the mound and got into his bullpen, he still fees some restriction in that same area. So he’s scheduled for an MRI later today and we’ll have more information following that.
“But I still think there’s the ability to go through two consecutive days with some intensity, which he wasn’t able to do just three to five days ago. But yet he’s not at the point of being able to do a normal bullpen in advance of any rehab start.”
Buchholz acknowledged his disappointment at the latest development.
"Really frustrating,'' he said.
"It was a letdown (today). But I'm fortunate enough that we have a really good team and I'm not having to stress getting back any quicker than I need to be fully recovered because we're struggling or we need arms. That's not the case with this club. Everybody's going out and doing the job and having a bunch of quality outings from our starters is key. It could be more stressful and more frustrating. But at this point, it's where I'm at. I definitely don't want to be stuck at this point any longer than I have to be. I just have to deal with it.''
Farrell said Buchholz feels the discomfort mostly on the follow-through of his delivery.
“It’s not the back of the shoulder, which would indicate the rotator cuff,” Farrell said. “At some point in the follow-through there’s going to be a number of different muscles that take over. So it’s still in the trapezius muscle in the base of the neck where he is feeling it.”
Farrell said the team cannot devise a plan for Buchholz’s return until the right-hander is symptom-free.
“That includes the number of days missed, what his most recent workload has been, and to lay out any plan to build him back to a rehab start,” Farrell said.
But, Buchholz would need to have two pain-free bullpen sessions before he could be sent out on a rehab assignment, with the number of rehab starts unknown at this point. Given that the All-Star break is 18 days away, it is possible Buchholz may not return before then, which could have a significant impact on the team.
"I hope not,” he said. “I hope we can find a way to take care of this real quick and get the process moving quicker than it has been. I definitely don't want this to happen; I definitely want to pitch before the break. I don't want to be all this time off, then come back the break with four added days onto that. So I want to try to figure it out, get off the mound and do whatever I need to do to get well.”
Buchholz is 9-0, with an American League-leading 1.71 ERA. The Sox are 11-1 in his starts. They enter Wednesday’s game 8-8 since Buchholz has been on the DL.
“His performance was as good as your going to find in baseball for the time that he’s been active,” Farrell said. “Top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers, when they’re absent are hard to replace. Yet at the same time we’re still playing pretty darn well as a team. But we have to do what’s right for Clay to get him back to not only active but to the level of performance that he was operating at before he went down.”
Buchholz has been on the DL in each of the past three seasons – in 2012 with a stomach illness, in 2011 with a lower back strain in June that ended his season, and in 2010 with a hamstring strain. This injury, though, has been different for him to deal with.
"I've never had any sort of upper extremity being injured or hurt,” he said. “It’s a different feeling for me."
"I don't know if I'd go out there and compensate for it, but I sort of feel all this happened in the
first point -- me compensating for the AC joint and maybe throwing from a little higher arm
slot than I usually do. I'm not going to say it couldn't happen. But I'm not really sure.''
By Maureen Mullen and Sean McAdam