The diagnosis was verified with a visit to Dr. Robert Watkins on Monday in Los Angeles, where Buchholz already showed some significant improvement in his symptoms. He will now progress through a five-step program, beginning with core strengthening exercises, and could, at best, be throwing long toss in about a month.
Even if that occurs, Buchholz would take things very slow before even stepping on a mound. The safest scenario would have him returning in October to help Boston in the postseason, if the team makes it.
"If I can be back early, I'm going to do everything I can to come back and help this team, but I want to be healthy doing it," he said. "I don't want to go out there and pitch one game and go back on the DL for something I could've prevented.
"If there was a timetable, I think the postseason is where I would want to come back. That makes the most sense to me as far as being able to help this club."
Buchholz last pitched June 16 in Tampa Bay. He left that game after just five innings and 81 pitches. He was placed on the disabled list the next day a strained lower back, but the pain he expected to disappear lingered after each and every throwing session.
Eventually, the club determined that he had a stress reaction in the back. The doctors he had seen informed Buchholz and the team to treat the symptoms, which were purely musculature at the time. When he threw a quality session in the bullpen on July 25 at Fenway Park, the staff was ecstatic, as was Buchholz.
When the pain cropped up the next day, an MRI was ordered, which showed what Watkins confirmed.
"After that was over I was pretty excited knowing that I could pitch with that strain, but the next morning I woke up and it was back to the way it was in Tampa," he said. "That's when I realized it was going to take longer.
"I think [the fracture] had something to do with it. Having muscle strains and pulled muscles and torn muscles … for it to be such a little muscle in my back that was hurting and for it to not go away, I felt like there was definitely something else going on."
Now that there is an official diagnosis, there's also a slight sense of relief. No longer is there an unknown quality to Buchholz's status.
While insisting there is no set date for a return, if it even happens, Red Sox manager Terry Francona echoed that positive vibe.
"I think there's actually more good news than bad out there with Dr. Watkins, because I think he's already kind of, the symptoms are showing some healing," Francona said. "This is not a career-threatening injury. If you see him pitch this year, he's OK."
Buchholz will hold out hope for that to occur. If not, he will eye 2012 knowing the back should be 100 percent and he can get past what has been a disappointing period of time.
"I've been frustrated for awhile," he said. "I want to go out there. I want to pitch. That's why I'm here. That's why they gave me the extension earlier in the year, to help this team win. For something like this to happen … it's frustrating and definitely not something I wanted to happen.
"I do believe everything happens for a reason. That being said, it's going to be 100 percent recovered by the time I get to spring training next year, is what he said. If I can go back and somehow fast forward this recovery to come up in October, that's where I want."
Buchholz said that if he defies the odds and returns, he is prepared to do so out of the bullpen, but would not rule out heading to the instructional league in Florida to build back up his pitch count and giving the club a start at some point in time.
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