By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
CHICAGO -- With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to now understand why the Red Sox spent so much time and energy on finding a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.
Clay Buchholz, who's been out six weeks, is suffering from a stress fracture in his lower back, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
It's unlikely that Buchholz will pitch again this season, though a return in the postseason has not entirely been ruled out yet.
Buchholz, whose last start was June 16, is scheduled to see noted back specialist Dr. Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles Monday. But Watkins will likely only confirm what has already been diagnosed.
Buchholz threw off the mound last Monday and told reporters afterward that he felt the session was a step in the right direction, adding that he felt about 80 percent recovered.
"I think it's going to feel better," Buchholz said at the time. "There was still a little soreness coming off after I threw. I sat down for about 10 minutes, did a couple stretches and it felt better. This is, I think, the biggest step in the right direction so far in this process."
However, the very next day, Buchholz experienced some additional soreness and underwent an MRI, which revealed the stress fracture. Previously, the official diagnosis had been that Buchholz was battling stress inflammation of the back.
Such injuries are rare for pitchers. They are more common in position players. New York Mets third baseman David Wright was diagnosed with a stress fracture in mid-May and only recently returned, having missed about two months.
No surgery is required for a stress fracture, which is usually healed with rest and treatment.
It's possible Buchholz could be physically ready sometime in September to resume pitching. By then, however, the seasons for every minor-league affiliate would be complete and there would be no venue for which Buchholz could rehab.
Without the benefit of live game conditions to build arm strength, it would be difficult for Buchholz to return late in the season. It's conceivable, the source said, that Buchholz could pitch in relief in the postseason, but that would be asking a great deal for someone who will not have faced major league hitters since mid-June.
General manager Theo Epstein, in a conference call with reporters Sunday to discuss the team's acquisition of Erik Bedard, said, "Clearly, we have some concern for Clay. It's been almost a couple of months now, which is longer than we expected it to be. We're still awaiting some more feedback and another opinion. I think we have a feel for what may be going on, but Clay is seeing another expert to get his opinion, then we're all going to put our heads together this week.
"I'll refrain from answering in too much detail until we have a chance to talk to Clay and we all have a chance to talk things through. Clearly any time a pitcher of his caliber isn't on the mound for a while and throws a side as he did on Monday but then can't necessarily back it up with another side and getting out there on a rehab assignment, there's some concern."
The Sox may have held off on making any announcement on Buchholz's condition out of fear that the news would cost them leverage in trade talks with opposing teams leading up to Sunday's deadline.