Clay Buchholz received positive news about the health of his shoulder when he visited the esteemed Dr. James Andrews on Monday. But how positive depends on who you ask.
Buchholz indicated on Tuesday that he may not be ready to pitch in a major league game until late August or early September.
"I definitely have a strain in there," Buchholz said. "The strength of my shoulder was as good as it's ever been. It's all in the throwing motion."
After speaking with Andrews, Buchholz believes the problem stems from his trying to push through the initial injury that occurred in June.
"It's probably partly my fault because I want to come back more than probably anybody wants me to be back. Probably been pushing myself a little bit too much," he said. "That was the problem we were running into. I'd feel really good for a day or two or three and then try and get off a mound and it'd be like a re-strain and start from square one again. That's what I've been doing for a month and a half and it's been miserable."
Buchholz said the injury — a strained bursa sac — should heal fairly soon and that his shoulder is otherwise structurally sound. Andrews, in fact, told Buchholz that his shoulder was better than he might have expected for a 28-year-old major league pitcher.
But Andrews also counseled patience. According to Buchholz, Andrews told him not to try pitching off a mound until he could throw from 90 feet at full intensity and not feel any pain.
"That's when the light comes on and I can start throwing off the mound," Buchholz said.
Because Buchholz has not pitched in a game since June 8, he would need time to get in game shape. At a minimum, that would involve three bullpen sessions, a simulated game and then a minor league rehabilitation game.
On Monday, Red Sox manager John Farrell said Buchholz would have "more readiness on his part to push through" any pain he felt.
Buchholz doesn't necessarily agree with that.
"That's another thing. If I do this too quick then I'm going to be dealing with it for the rest of the year," he said. "I think that's a risk for me because I wouldn't be able to pitch right now. ... Knowing that if I don't do this right, [Andrews] said you can either pitch four or five starts in the last half of the season and hopefully we're lucky enough to go to the playoffs and pitch in the playoffs. Or you can do it wrong and not pitch at all."
Getting back for four or five starts would suggest Buchholz may not come off the disabled list for another month.
"There's no timeline on it," Buchholz said. "I'm gong to go as quick as I can at the comfort level that he told me to go at."
Said Farrell: "Whatever time is needed, Clay is going to return to us when he's ready."
Buchholz said trying to pitch now would be fruitless.
"The last couple of bullpens that I've tried, it wouldn't be fun for me to go out and pitch the way it felt. And that was going at 70 percent in the bullpen. I don't want to imagine what it would feel like at 100 percent," he said.
Buchholz said Andrew told him to be careful. "His exact words were, 'This could turn into something if you allow it to. If you go out there and throw 100 percent it won't be good,' " he said.
Farrell said the Red Sox will approach Buchholz's return in phases.
"The reconditioning and the strength gains from a throwing standpoint to then incorporating the mound," he said. "This will all be determined on Clay's tolerance and how he responds to the increase in intensity."
Buchholz was asked how confident he was about being able to start again this season.
"I said I was pretty confident I was going to pitch a month and a half ago. But I feel good about it knowing the steps that I have to take to get back and not pushing myself over the edge," he said. "I feel pretty good about it."
Said Farrell: "I think we're still very optimistic he's going to pitch for us. To be determined on the date."
Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 earned run average before he went on the disabled list.
"I was having the best season that I ever thought that I could have in this game. And I promise you I definitely want to be out there pitching. I feel like I wouldn't give the team the best chance to win if I go out there at 60 percent," he said.