BOSTON -- Boston's starting rotation is getting closer to full strength.
On the day Jon Lester was activated from the disabled list to start against the Kansas City Royals, Clay Buchholz threw 30 pitches off a bullpen mound Monday and felt his strained lower back was improving.
"I felt better," said Buchholz, who has been sidelined since mid-June. "There was still a little soreness coming off [the mound]. I sat down 10 minutes and did some stretches, then it felt better."
Three days ago, Buchholz said he was frustrated by what he felt was a slow recovery. Now, he's talking about getting back soon.
"I think it's going to take a couple of starts to get back in there," he said, expecting a stint in the minors when he's cleared to pitch. "I'm 80 percent now. It's hard to pitch like that in the big leagues. That's what the Double-A and Triple-A starts are for."
Lester had been on the disabled list since July 7 with a strained muscle in his back. To make room for him on the roster, the Red Sox optioned righty Kyle Weiland to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona had said the club would place outfielder J.D. Drew on the DL because of a shoulder injury. That move will apparently wait until Tuesday.
"He had an MRI a couple of days ago," Francona said. "Hopefully a couple of days down will do some good, then maybe we'll see the J.D. we want to see."
Drew has struggled this season, hitting just .219 with four homers and 21 RBI.
Weiland made two starts in Boston, going 0-1 with a 8.10 ERA.
Buchholz, a key part of Boston's rotation last season, has made just 14 starts, going 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA. Last year, he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, pitching with discomfort in his lower back for a good part of the second half of the season.
"I've pitched with pain before," he said. "It's just a muscle that got pulled. If I can get it better and pitch like I did the last part of last season, that's what I'm going to do."
Buchholz was encouraged by his first time throwing off a mound. When he first was put on the DL, he went to a back specialist in North Carolina for a second opinion.
"I'll get a bullpen in a couple of days," he said.