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Buchholz may pitch in a game next week

Though some players got loose, last night’s game at Yankee Stadium never got off the ground. Though some players got loose, last night’s game at Yankee Stadium never got off the ground. (Uli Seit for The New York Times)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / September 24, 2011

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NEW YORK - Clay Buchholz could pitch in a game for the Red Sox as soon as Monday after successfully throwing two innings of a simulated game at Yankee Stadium yesterday.

Because of rain, Buchholz pitched in the batting cage. He threw 17 pitches in the first inning to hitters just standing at the plate, then 23 live pitches in the second inning.

Buchholz said the back injury that has kept him out since June did not bother him.

“To my eye, it was really sharp. His stuff was there. It got better as it went on. It was pretty exciting,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said. “Most importantly, he looked really healthy and felt good. We’ll see if we can find a way to make him available to help this team. If we can, we will.’’

Manager Terry Francona said that could happen as early as the Baltimore series.

“We’re going to see how he bounces back. But the next thing’s probably a game. I can’t imagine it being before Monday,’’ Francona said. “As long as he bounces back OK and feels OK, he’ll be eligible to pitch in a game.’’

Buchholz seemed somewhat reticent about getting into a game, however.

“That’s what we have to talk about. Like I said before, not throwing for three months and then throwing twice [in simulated games] and getting in a major league game might be a little difficult,’’ he said. “Whatever, we’ll have to see what happens.’’

Francona made it clear that if Buchholz pitches in a game, he would not be a starter.

“He can’t,’’ Francona said. “He can only throw one, maybe two innings.’’

Buchholz was 6-3 with a 3.48 earned run average in 14 games before his injury. Whether he pitches in a game this season or not, that he is finally healthy is a significant step.

“That’s one of the things that’s going to be a weight off my shoulders, knowing I can have my regular offseason workouts,’’ he said. “It’s just regular stiffness and soreness. From that aspect, it’s going well.’’

Contact drills J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis took indoor batting practice to determine how close they are to returning from injury.

Drew took regular swings and looked “OK,’’ according to Francona. The right fielder has not played since July because of a sore left shoulder and a fractured knuckle on the middle finger of his right hand.

Youkilis swung at balls off a tee and some balls tossed to him. The third baseman last played Sept. 15. He has bursitis in his left hip, a sore lower back, and a hernia that will require surgery after the season.

It is looking less likely that Youkilis will play again this season. Francona is planning to meet with him today to discuss the situation.

“He still feels it,’’ Francona said. “I want to see how he’s doing. What I don’t want to do is ask him to do something he shouldn’t be doing. I want to sit down and talk to him.’’

The Sox have been using Mike Aviles at third base, with good results. He is 10 for 26 with five extra-base hits and six RBIs in the last nine games. Francona had him listed to hit fifth in the lineup last night before the game was postponed.

“He’s done a real nice job. He’s a shortstop by trade and he’s worked hard to make the adjustment over to third base. He’s taken a ton of ground balls early every day. He’s starting to look comfortable at third,’’ Epstein said.

“He can hit. He has the ability to barrel up the ball. It’s an unconventional swing and approach, but he finds a way to put the barrel on the ball.

“When he gets hot, he gets really hot. We’re fortunate that he’s played his way into a hot stretch here. We think he’s a valuable player for now and for the future. You can’t ask anything more.’’

Pitcher was pursued Epstein acknowledged that the Sox were interested in obtaining a starting pitcher this month, even knowing that pitcher would not have been eligible for the postseason roster. “At different points in September, we strongly considered it, including early in September when we started to have some holes. It was such a limited market out there. We explored it,’’ Epstein said. The GM said it was unlikely a trade would happen before the end of the season . . . Both games tomorrow will be on NESN . . . Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez needs one home run to tie Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth all time with 630 . . . Robinson Cano has 80 extra-base hits, the most by a lefthanded-hitting Yankee since Don Mattingly had 86 in 1986.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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