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Boston's Buchholz happy with progression

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Not that the Red Sox expected anything different, but one of the highlights of their early spring continues to be right-hander Clay Buchholz.

He's deep enough in his comeback from the stress fracture he suffered in his lower back last season that he no longer measures his spring days in terms of tests passed.

"I don't think it would be healthy to go and worry about what could happen," said Buchholz, whose progression toward Boston's opening day rotation continued Tuesday with a four-inning, 59-pitch workout during a minor-league intrasquad game on one of the back fields here.

Rather, Buchholz said, he views things in terms of "getting my work in" and "getting my innings in."

Given that his season ended last June 16, those are no small issues.

"It was a long time," Buchholz said. "I'm ready. I've been ready for six-and-a-half, seven months.

"I'm ready to go to work as hard as I can."

His 82 2/3 innings pitched last season represent fewer than half of the 173 2/3 innings he worked for the Red Sox in 2010. He was 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA over 14 starts last summer when the back gave out.

For the Red Sox, it is imperative that they get a strong Buchholz back, because with Daisuke Matsuzaka out (likely until at least June) and John Lackey sidelined for the season, Boston currently is able to project only three-fifths of its 2011 rotation: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Buccholz.

Buchholz's rehabilitation is completely finished, although he says he will always have maintenance work to do in order to ensure that he doesn't hurt his back again. His program this spring includes heavy focus on the core muscles and the hips.

"Stuff to try and mobilize the core, and strengthen the hips," Buccholz said. "And other stuff to try and strengthen the core and mobilize the hips."

The seven innings (over three outings) he pitched in the Florida Instructional League last October following Boston's shocking fall from grace in September were important in easing Buchholz's mind of any lingering back questions. He knew he was sound after that work, which enabled him to focus on preparing for the 2012 season over the winter rather than rehab stuff.

"Everything feels good," he said.

More importantly, as he recorded 11 outs and threw 33 strikes while surrendering five hits and a walk during Tuesday's minor-league game, everything looked good, too.

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