BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz hasn't pitched in a game for the Red Sox since June 8, but the ace right-hander finally feels he is making progress from the neck strain that put him on the disabled list.
"It's finally turned a corner actually," said Buchholz. "I feel like I'm finally getting close to feeling pretty much normal now. So the last few days of throwing are encouraging. Like I said, I'm finally able to clear my head a little bit and go about it as just getting back to getting off the mound."
Buchholz played catch at a distance of about 100 feet on Wednesday. He needs to get to 120 before the Red Sox permit him to throw off of a mound.
"It could be tomorrow or it could be in a couple days," Buchholz said.
Once Buchholz is successful throwing off the mound, the Red Sox can plot out a Minor League rehab assignment.
"As far as the rehab stuff goes, me personally, if I felt good in the first start, I would ask him just to throw me back in there [to the rotation]," said Buchholz.
The Red Sox might take a more cautious approach.
"We have to look at the calendar and start to backtrack how many days [he's been out]," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We're a month away from his last start. Without sitting and talking to Clay a little bit more candidly or specifically on what he's experienced, we'll map that plan out a little more clearly in due time."
With power down, Napoli out of lineup
BOSTON -- Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli's power outage has lasted more than a month. One of the most productive hitters in the American League earlier in the season, Napoli hasn't homered since June 1, and has only one extra-base hit -- a double -- in his last 74 at-bats.
Red Sox manager John Farrell gave Napoli a day off on Wednesday, with a Thursday matinee looming and then a flight to the West Coast.
Napoli was out on the field with several other Boston hitters taking early batting practice on Wednesday.
"Well, we're working to try to create a little bit more of a shorter stroke, and we can't pinpoint anything physically," said Farrell. "Given what he's come through in the offseason, people might naturally think there's something going on there, which there isn't."
Napoli's deal with the Red Sox was delayed when it was discovered he has a hip condition called avascular necrosis.
"He's also hit some balls the other way, and in this ballpark, it's not as forgiving as others," Farrell said. "We're trying to get back to the production that he showed. It doesn't have to be to the point of an April, but somewhere in between."
Mike Carp got the start in Napoli's place, and he's done a tremendous job this season off the bench. Carp is hitting .310 with eight homers, 25 RBIs and a 1.019 OPS in 46 games.
"Well, of late, we've had a hard time getting him on the field. But when he's been in the lineup, he's given us a potent left-handed bat capable of extra-base hits, and defensively has done a good job at first base as well," said Farrell. "He was slowed a little bit by the hamstring, but that all seems to be resolved completely at this point, so he's done a very good job. And I think given where we are today, he's one of the guys that has come off the bench and have not allowed us to really skip a beat."
As productive as Carp has been, Boston's most balanced lineup is one in which Napoli is providing thump from the right side behind David Ortiz.
Is it possible Napoli will be moved out of the No. 5 spot in the order, at least temporarily?
"Without talking to Mike yet about that, there's been some thought there," Farrell said. "There's definitely been some thought."
Ross making progress in concussion recovery
BOSTON -- Though Red Sox catcher David Ross remains with his family in Florida as he recovers from his second concussion of the season, manager John Farrell had an encouraging update on Wednesday.
"He's had three or four really good days consecutively here," said Farrell. "He's still got next Tuesday as a follow up with Dr. Collins in Pittsburgh. His scheduled return for us is undecided right now. But he's started to work out with some exercise on elliptical, stationary bike. He's started to throw a little bit.
"He's started to lift some weights. The sensations that he feels as a result of the concussion are starting to really diminish. Most importantly, when he gets into open-space areas where you've got a lot of movement and a lot of noise, that's starting to really subside."
With Ross absent since June 14, the continued improvement of Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate has been big for the Red Sox.
"You credit a catcher as an integral part to the success of the team, the success of the pitching staff, and numbers bear that out," said Farrell. "The one thing Salty has embraced wholeheartedly is maybe a little bit more of a structure around him with the description of the game plan and the communication that he and [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] and every starter he handles, every pitcher that he handles between innings.
"The one thing I'll tell you he's doing a better job at is the reading of swings. That gives you all the information you need to make the next selection. He's doing a very good job of that."
Farrell said that Ryan Lavarnway will start Thursday afternoon's game against Padres left-hander Eric Stults.
Middlebrooks drives in eight for Triple-A Pawtucket
BOSTON -- The way Will Middlebrooks is swinging the bat, he won't be in Triple-A Pawtucket for much longer.
The third baseman had a monster night at Pawtucket on Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two homers, a double and eight RBIs.
"The past couple of games, I've been trying to be patient and -- what's the word? -- selectively aggressive. Just seeing and hitting it, no matter what the count is," Middlebrooks told the Pawtucket Times. "If they're going to give me a good pitch, it doesn't matter what the count is."
Middlebrooks also indicated that his health played a role in his struggles with the Red Sox this season.
"I'm feeling normal and like myself again," said Middlebrooks. "Just some lingering things [earlier in the year]. It was nothing serious, but there was something tight."
For the Red Sox this season, Middlebrooks hit .192 with nine homers and 25 RBIs.
Part of the reason for his demotion on June 25 was the stellar play of Jose Iglesias, who is hitting .409 for Boston.
Iglesias is playing mostly third base because the Red Sox have veteran shortstop Stephen Drew. The last few days, Iglesias has played short while Brandon Snyder has been at third. Drew has been out with right hamstring tightness.
The Red Sox are hopeful Drew will be able to play during the early part of the team's West Coast trip, which opens Friday in Anaheim. If not, perhaps Middlebrooks will make a return engagement.