BOSTON — Red Sox Medical Director Dr. Tom Gill said that the stress fracture in Clay Buchholz's back is a new injury not brought on by throwing, and that the right-hander could possibly return this season.
"I think there's absolutely a chance [Buchholz can come back in 2011], I just don't know how big that chance is," Gill said. "I think that there's a great chance that he would be healed by then or the fracture would be stable by then. The question is, how much time does Clay need to get major league ready?"
Gill on Tuesday night mapped out the progression of Buchholz?s situation, which has had several twists and turns since early June, when he was first checked out to determine the cause of some back pain.
In that initial exam, Buchholz showed a condition on one side of a portion of his spine that is likely developmental, something that could even stem from childhood. That condition is what helped cause the stress reaction on the other side of the vertebra, which developed in time into a fracture. Gill insisted that scans along the way did not show the fracture until last week after his bullpen session at Fenway Park, but that the throwing itself did not cause the injury.
"There's nothing that he did from a baseball standpoint that can cause a stress response to become a stress fracture, except for the fact that, like I said, if you have that longstanding defect on the one side of the ring it's going to concentrate stress on the other," Gill said. "So, it was probably just a natural progression of that stress response."
Gill later responded to an inquiry as to whether the fracture was there before it was discovered last week.
"It's an absolute new injury," Gill said. "He's been scanned multiple times, every which way, and it's definitely a new injury."
Buchholz said earlier in the day that he is hopeful for a return during the regular season, but feels that October is more realistic.
The positive aspect of the injury is that it will heal on its own and Buchholz will not do any damage to the back by throwing — it?s a matter of getting to the point where the symptoms (i.e., pain) are absent.
Gill and the team have mapped out a five-stage recovery plan. The first few stages involve core strengthening exercises to fortify the abdominal muscles and others in the area. When that strength is sufficient, Buchholz can begin to throw. At that point, it will be a daily chore to determine when to get on a mound, when to increase the workload and when to go full bore.
As for if there's enough time to make Buchholz a factor in the playoff push, or the actual playoffs, that will be a decision left for the baseball people.
"That's going to be kind of an internal baseball decision," Gill said. "Once he's medically cleared, he has to get baseball cleared."
At the very least, the top medical expert in the organization says that there?s a chance that Buchholz could get that clearance before 2011 is all said and done.