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Clay Buchholz to get an MRI, no timetable for return

06.26.13 at 3:08 pm ET
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Wednesday was supposed to represent a step forward for Clay Buchholz, the first of two scheduled bullpen sessions — this one of lower intensity, with another one to follow on Friday of pre-game intensity — that would put him in line for a rehab start. Instead, the session represented an exercise in further frustration for the pitcher as he tries to return from what has been diagnosed as a trapezius strain.

Buchholz continues to feel incremental improvement in the muscle in his lower neck. Still, discomfort persists — albeit in one specific activity. Buchholz feels fine when throwing aggressively on flat ground. But when he throws off a mound, he continues to feel the effect of the injury on his follow through, as his arm crosses his body after releasing the ball. And so, after about 15-18 pitches off of the bullpen mound on Wednesday, Buchholz stopped the session.

“His own words were, ‘It’s not ready,’ ” recounted manager John Farrell.

“It’s frustrating,” said Buchholz. “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 some starts and then having it flare up again. ‘€¦ That’s where we’re at right now, I’ve been told and reinforced multiple times that it’s not the 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 the mound.”

Buchholz will undergo an MRI — the first one he’s been sent for since the injury — to verify that he is indeed dealing with an injury to the trapezius muscle, at the base of the neck. The 28-year-old is holding out hope that he might still return before the All-Star break.

“I want to pitch before the break,” he said. “I don’t want it to be all this time off, then come back after the break with four more days added onto that. So I want to try to figure it out, get off a mound and do whatever I need to do to get well.”

Still, realistically, that likelihood is slim, given that even prior to Wednesday’s interrupted bullpen session, a best-case scenario for his return had him back in the big leagues by the end of next week. Even if the MRI confirms the original diagnosis and the fact that he’s in the late stages of recovery from it, given the fact that Buchholz will not progress in his recovery until he is symptom-free, the team does not yet have a roadmap for the schedule he might follow to return to games.

“To give you any kind of timeframe going forward, it’s too early for that,” said Farrell.

There are some silver linings for the pitcher, albeit faint ones. He said that he feels better than he did when throwing off a bullpen mound last week at Fenway Park, and he said that his pitches came out of his hand well while he worked off the mound.

Still, given that he suffered this latest issue in a second start back from experiencing soreness in his AC joint, and that he believes that he suffered this apparent trapezius injury when throwing awkwardly on a comebacker to first base in that game — believed by both the pitcher and team to be related to the first injury, Buchholz feels strongly that he needs to feel no lingering soreness in order to maximize the likelihood that he can not only return but stay healthy for the duration of the season.

“It’s not anything that I couldn’t go out and pitch with I don’t think, but it’s sort of the same thing I felt the first time I missed a start,” said Buchholz. “I started the game against the Yankees and I felt fine, and then it had to be that throw that I made in an awkward position. That’s sort of where I’m at right now. Like I said, feel fine playing long-toss, feel fine throwing hard playing long-toss. It’s just getting the arm slot, I guess, off a mound is a little bit different as far as the way the mound is.

“I probably wouldn’t have thrown [the ball on the comebacker if this injury could have been anticipated],” he added. “But being a competitor, everybody is out there wanting to compete. It’s hard to tell yourself to go 80 percent when you’re competing at this level. I’ve never been one to do that. That’s sort of the reason why I don’t feel like it’s right for me to go out and pitch when I’m 80 percent, because then I’m doing the team an injustice by risking further injury. … I don’t know if I’d go out there and compensate for it, but I sort of feel that’s how all this happened in the first place, was me compensating for the AC joint, maybe throwing it 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.”

And so, the Sox must continue on without the pitcher who has been the most dominant in the American League. They’ve been able to make due — the performance of Alfredo Aceves on a couple of call-up starts has been immense, and the fact that John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront have all been pitching relatively well since Buchholz went down has made his absence somewhat less glaring.

Still, it’s impossible to deny the impact of the loss of a pitcher who routinely offered seven or eight dominant innings.

“Top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers, when they’re absent, are hard to replace,” said Farrell. “We’re still playing pretty darn well as a team, but we have to do what’s right for Clay to get him back not only active but to the level of performance he was operating at before he went down.”

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