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Buchholz ‘a little miserable’ as he prepares to see back specialist

07.04.11 at 7:19 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz remains on the DL with lingering back soreness. (AP)

When Clay Buchholz landed on the disabled list on June 19 due to soreness in his lower back, it seemed like the type of common precaution that a team takes during the middle of the year. Give a pitcher a two-week vacation to rest an ache, with the bonus of allowing his arm to rest and regenerate, and then get a pitcher back at the height of his abilities down the stretch.

It hasn’t quite worked according to plan. Buchholz had pitched through his cranky back in a number of starts, and pitched well, forging a 6-3 record and 3.48 ERA in 14 starts, including a 5-0 run with a 2.59 ERA in his last nine turns of the rotation.

And so, the expectation was that he would need little more than 15 days to get healthy before returning to the rotation, a stretch during which the Sox might be able to give Andrew Miller a trial in the rotation. Initially, Buchholz showed signs of progress with the injury, but more recently, he has seen little improvement. Soreness persists.

“I’ve been sitting out for two and a half weeks and getting a little miserable with it. There’s nothing I want to do besides go out there and throw and pitch and try to help this team win. But I feel like I’ve got to be healthy to do that,” Buchholz said prior to Monday’s game. “It felt like it was getting better for a while. Started doing some treatments on it. It’s not going down, but it’s sort of staying the same. That’s what we’re looking at.

“We’ve already said it’s probably going to be after the All-Star break sometime, so hopefully those couple days off at the break will kind of give it a rest by not doing anything, just sort of laying around.”

Buchholz met with Red Sox team physician Dr. Thomas Gill on Monday. It was determined that the pitcher will head to North Carolina to consult with Dr. Craig Brigham, a back specialist. Though frustrated, Buchholz recognizes the need to proceed cautiously, as an attempt to pitch through a back injury can create a host of other problems, a message that was reinforced by teammate Josh Beckett.

Beckett’s 2010 campaign was derailed by a series of injuries, starting with some discomfort in his upper back. While Buchholz’s soreness is in his lower back, the right-hander understands the dangers of pitching through the injury.

“I have talked to [Beckett] about it. It’s definitely not the same thing, but his advice was you definitely can’t go out there and pitch with a hurt back,” said Buchholz. “It’s one of the parts of the body that you use the most when you’re pitching. It’s definitely got to be better to be able to go and compete and not hurt yourself any more.”

It is with that in mind that Buchholz will see Brigham. The Sox are hopeful that the pitcher will get peace of mind from seeing the specialist.

“It just hurts when he does certain things pitching,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “He’s moving around so well other than that, but obviously, because he’s a pitcher, when we send him out there, we want him to know that even if it hurts he’s not hurting himself.”

While Buchholz — who will go to North Carolina this week — will remain sidelined for a longer spell than he expected, he did recognize two silver linings to his injury. First, teammate Andrew Miller has filled in impressively, with the Sox having won all three of the left-handers starts since his call-up from Triple-A.

“It’s awesome. There’s basically no dropoff from me to him. He’s a guy who can go out and dominate with the pitches he has. All of them pretty much are major league plus pitches,” said Buchholz. “I think the organization feels the same way – he’s a guy who can step in, fill a spot that I’ve had to work up to in my career, where the organization felt like it had a chance every time I rolled out there. I think the organization feels the same way about him.”

Secondly, as much as Buchholz wants to pitch, he also recognizes that the break might help his arm down the stretch. A year ago, after all, Buchholz was 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA when he landed on the DL due to a hamstring injury in interleague play. Though he was sidelined for a few weeks, he was just as good — if not better — once he returned in the second half, going 7-3 with a 2.20 ERA.

“It’s nothing up here,” Buchholz said of his current injury while pointing to his shoulder. “I’m not coming back from a shoulder injury or elbow. My arm’s going to be rested, so whenever my back allows me to go out there and throw, I’ll be better than I was when this thing happened.”

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