BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz continues to ramp up his throwing program as he recovers from a neck strain that has sidelined him since June 8.
The Red Sox's ace was slated to throw from 90 feet on flat ground prior to Thursday's game, 15 feet further than he did Wednesday. He'll continue to extend back until he's ready to throw off the mound.
"We expect the same type of intensity today with a little bit more distance," manager John Farrell said. "That will be three consecutive days of throwing and tomorrow's a planned no-throw day or just a little light catch day for him. So the next progressive step after Friday would be to get out to 120 feet or 105 feet. We tend to add 15 feet to each throwing session. Most importantly is how he's feeling this morning after a good workday yesterday.
Buchholz will likely need two rehab starts before returning to the roster, making it very unlikely he'll return before the All-Star break. Farrell said the Red Sox will take a cautious approach with Buchholz, who is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA.
The right-hander is optimistic about his progress, saying Wednesday that he feels he has "turned the corner."
"I feel like I'm finally getting close to feeling pretty much normal now," said Buchholz. "So the last few days of throwing are encouraging. Like I said, I'm finally able to clear my head a little bit and go about it as just getting back to getting off the mound."
Drew eyeing return to lineup Saturday night
BOSTON -- Stephen Drew could return to the Red Sox's lineup as soon as Saturday.
The shortstop has been battling right hamstring tightness since exiting Friday's game against the Blue Jays, but manager John Farrell said Drew is making good progress.
"Stephen will run again today and we're getting closer to hopefully staying away from the DL," Farrell said. "We're thinking Saturday might be a day he's back in the starting lineup if he's continues to progress as he has the past couple days, so he's moving in the right direction."
Drew was not placed in on the disabled list with the hope he could make a speedy recovery. In his absence, the Red Sox have carried one less reliever than normal on their roster. Deep outings from the starters have prevented that from being an issue, but if Drew isn't ready to go Saturday, the club will consider making a move.
"He's still in a day-to-day status," Farrell said. "Hopefully we can continue on as we've been, and that is starters going deep in the game where we haven't been forced to tax the bullpen. So that's also factored into this to buy us some time and to go with one less reliever. So that's the plan right now."
Starting pitchers carrying load for AL East leaders
BOSTON -- Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Red Sox are on a roll, and much of the credit belongs to the quality pitching from the starters.
During the span, Boston starters have combined for five quality starts, and in all but one outing, the starter lasted at least six innings.
Jon Lester and John Lackey have been particularly effective over the past two games, combining to give up two runs in 15 innings.
The result is a well-rested bullpen and an offense that feels it's always within striking distance.
"It has such a trickle-down effect, particularly to the bullpen," Farrell said. "Obviously by being out there they're pitching well, so you're in the game. You're probably giving us a chance to win on that night, and when you go to guys in the 'pen, they come to you rested."
The recent stretch from the starters has been particularly important, because the Red Sox are currently carrying one less reliever than normal due to shortstop Stephen Drew's right hamstring tightness.
Factoring in the off-day on Monday, the bullpen, which ranked 11th in the American League in innings pitched entering Thursday, has thrown three innings over the past three days.
"That group has been pushed pretty hard through the first two-and-a-half, three months on the season, so as the weather is heating up and the innings are starting to pile up, it's coming at a good time," Farrell said.
After rough month, Bailey takes step forward
BOSTON -- It was a rough June for Andrew Bailey, but July is off to a better start.
The Red Sox's former closer pitched a perfect inning including two strikeouts as part of the team's 8-2 victory over the Padres on Thursday.
It was the first time Bailey didn't surrender a run in an outing since June 12, a span of five appearances. After striking out Logan Forsythe and Will Venable, Bailey got Carlos Quentin to fly out to right fielder Shane Victorino.
After a June in which he accumulated a 10.12 ERA and was removed as Boston's closer in favor of Koji Uehara, manager John Farrell said Thursday's outing was an encouraging sign.
"As important as anything in our bullpen right now is to get Andrew on track," Farrell said. "It was good to see him use his whole pitch mix rather than just rely on velocity. A couple of breaking balls to the leadoff hitter, one for a called strike three. A zero put up on the board in his case, it's a little bit of a building block and a step in the right direction."
Bailey said he didn't do anything differently. He's been working on having more confidence in his offspeed pitches between appearances, but his mentality remains the same.
"I'm not going to get away from who I am of challenging guys and being aggressive in the zone," Bailey said. "For me, it's just going out there and challenging the hitters, and today was a good day for me and it was nice to have a clean inning."
Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.