Clay Buchholz emerged beaten up from his injury-rehabilitation start for Class A Lowell on Sunday, but the part Boston is hanging its red socks on is that Buchholz seemed fine physically.
The right-hander who could be the key to Boston's September lasted only two-thirds of an inning, throwing 38 pitches during that time. He was slated to throw between 40 and 50 pitches.
Buchholz surrendered three runs -- one earned -- as the Lowell defense made a couple of errors behind him. Three walks didn't help.
"His velocity was in the upper 80s," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He came out of it fine physically. That's the big thing at this point."
Boston's plan going into the day was for Buchholz to make one more rehab start on Friday and then, if all was right, move him back to the majors. The thinking is that with rosters expanding in September, even if Buchholz only gives the Red Sox four innings in his first couple of starts back, they'll have plenty of relievers to cover the rest.
Whether Sunday's shorter-than-expected stint, and wildness, will cause a delay in his return now is difficult to say. Farrell said he expects the Red Sox to discuss Buchholz's injury rehab program Monday to finalize the next couple of steps.
Buchholz has not started since June 8, after which he was sidelined by a bout of bursitis in his right shoulder. The loss was a big one to Boston, as he was off to a Cy Young start: 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA over 12 starts.
Without him, the Red Sox have been able to maintain and hang onto first place in the AL East for much of the season. The Red Sox owned the fourth-best record in the AL on Sunday at 76-55, already seven more wins than in all of 2012 (69-93).
With hard-charging Tampa Bay slotted to get Matt Moore this week or next, the AL East battle will not be getting any easier.