By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Clay Buchholz finally got the proper injury diagnosis hed been searching for over the last two months, and it was both a little bit of good news and bad news.
The lithe right-hander hasnt pitched since the middle of June with what was thought to be a muscle strain in his lower back, but was finally announced on Tuesday as a stress fracture of the L2 (lumbar) vertebrae in Buchholzs spine.
The pitcher will take part in a five-step recovery process that begins immediately with strengthening his core muscles, and which could conceivably allow him to take part in the playoffs if he enjoys a flawless recovery. Sox manager Terry Francona said that a return this season hasnt been ruled out by the Sox, and Buchholz is just happy he finally holds a few answers to the mysterious injury.
According to the pitcher the stress fracture wasnt actually causing Buchholz any pain in the area affected, but it was radiating down into his lower back and causing the issues that tossed him on the shelf for the last two months.
I always felt something weird was going on back there. It was a relief to hear the doctor say that its not career-ending or even season-ending, said Buchholz. Its also a relief to find out theres something actually wrong, and Im not just a big wuss.
Having pulled muscles and strained muscles before, I know that I should recover from them within a month. Having that little area in my lower back where it hadnt gotten any better after a month-and-a-half, I knew something else had to be going on.
Francona said that there was a series of stress reactions in Buchholzs back that the doctors had been monitoring with no way to determine how old they were, but that the stress fracture wasnt discovered until after the pitchers 30-pitch bullpen session two weeks ago.
Buchholz looked and felt good throwing 30 pitches off the Fenway mound two weeks ago, but didnt respond in the ensuing days as the team hoped that he might. Thats when arrangements were made to send Buchholz out to Los Angeles and Dr. Robert Watkins, who made the definitive diagnosis of a stress fracture in the right-handers oft-discussed back. Buchholz said he was immediately relieved when he walked into the doctors office and saw the jerseys of prominent athletes all over his walls, and was satisfied with the diagnosis and treatment.
The righty will embark on the strengthening program for a month, and then the player and team barring any setbacks -- will revisit a potential target date for Buchholz to begin again throwing a baseball.
Buchholz is raring to go with the knowledge hes on a Sox team with legitimate World Series aspirations, and that he could be a big help in the playoffs if hes fully healthy.
If there was a timetable then the postseason is where Id want to come back. That makes the most sense to me, said Buchholz. Ive been frustrated for a while. Ive wanted to go out there and pitch. Thats why Im here and thats why they gave me the extension that they gave me earlier this year. Its definitely something I didnt want to happen, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason.
Sox Medical Director Dr. Tom Gill issued a statement about Buchholzs injury and indicated that perhaps a return might be possible in time for the playoffs.
Clay has a stress fracture in his lumbar spine. He is responding to treatments and his symptoms are improving. We have sent Clay to see three spine specialists, who all agree that the injury is stable and will heal on its own, wrote Gill. Clay will follow a five-step structured rehabilitation program, which will progress as his symptoms allow. When completed, Clay will be cleared to resume throwing. There is currently no time frame on his return, and his return this season has not been ruled out.Buchholz saw three of the top spinal doctors that deal primarily with pro athletes over the last few weeks, and it was determined that the pitcher's problem was a "safe injury" with no need for surgery and no danger that he could more seriously injure himself. Gill was adament that the stress fracture developed between the initial lower back pain in June and a second back scan performed last week on the Sox pitcher, but hopeful that Buchholz would feel fit to pitch before the was over."Clay being Clay, he is absolutely determined to get back this year. It's our job to make sure that he doesn't come back before it's safe for him," said Gill. "Basically the specialists said if it didn't bother him then he could be pitching with it right now. It's hard to understand that if you have a 'fracture' that it would be safe to throw...but if there were no symptoms then he'd be able to throw."There's absolutely a chance Buchholz can return. I just don't know how good that chance is. I think there's a great that he'll be healed by then or his fracture will have stabilized, but the question then is how much time does he need to be Major League ready. That'll be an internal baseball decision that will have to be made. Once he's medically cleared then he'll have to get baseball cleared as well."