Drew in limbo; others inch toward return

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew is out of the starting lineup for the fourth straight game Thursday against Cleveland as he continues to deal with a sore oblique. Drew was scheduled to undergo an evaluation and may require an MRI before the club determines the next step.

Drew felt his right oblique grab at him during batting practice Wednesday in Baltimore, which prompted the extra day of rest and the possible further testing.

“He’s frustrated by it and at the same time we can’t risk any longer-term situation,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Thursday.

Since joining the big-league club after a short stint in the minors earlier this month, Drew has managed just one single and two walks in 16 plate appearances.

As Drew remains in limbo, several other regulars are inching toward a return to health. Right-hander Clay Buchholz is scheduled to throw five innings Friday for Triple-A Pawtucket in his first rehab outing as he works his way back from a hyperextended left knee. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is also set to receive some at-bats in that game, and right fielder Shane Victorino is on target for a rehab stint that could begin as soon as Saturday.

Middlebrooks has been out since May 17 due to a fractured right index finger. Victorino is on the shelf for the second time this season due to a hamstring strain. Without them, as well as Mike Napoli for a 15-day stretch, the lineup has looked very little like the one many envisioned, but Farrell senses a dose of optimism for a club that is coming off a 2-7 road trip.

“We’re starting to get some guys on the mend,” he said.

The Red Sox notably scored one run in dropping two of three at Baltimore to begin the week, the club’s lowest-scoring three-game stretch in over 21 years. They enter Thursday’s series against Cleveland ranked 14th in the American League in runs scored.

Farrell insists that in addition to the rehabbing regulars there are some silver linings, specifically the club’s ability to draw walks (240 -- third in American League) and get on base (820 times -- fourth in AL).

“To me, and we’ve had this conversation with individual players, the staff, we can’t abandon the strengths that this team has shown in the past and that is to put up relentless at-bats, get on base. Overall, I still think we do a good job of getting on base. I firmly believe that this will turn. There’s confidence in this group of players to not only put together a quality game tonight but to put together a streak of wins that gets us back in the mix.”

* As the lineup awaits some possible returns in the coming week, it is without stalwart third baseman Xander Bogaerts on Thursday. The youngster, who is tied for the team lead in games played (63) and second in at-bats (270), was 0-for-16 with five strikeouts in the final four games of the road trip.

“Feel like over the past four, five games, see a little bit of, maybe some fatigue and some at-bats that have been uncharacteristic for him,” Farrell said. “Some early-pitch outs, which is not the norm. Just felt like he could benefit from a night down.”

Prior to the slump, Bogaerts had been the team’s most consistent producer for nearly a month. He had two homers and two doubles in his first five games after moving from shortstop to third base earlier this month.

Farrell insists he has not seen Bogaerts put any extra pressure on himself, either to live up to his expectations or to shoulder the load for an ailing offense.

“Evident the other night when he grounds into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded, there might have been a little bit of frustration at that moment because of what we’re living a little bit as a team, but to say that there are certain situations that you can visibly see it or he comes out of his swing or out of his mechanics in some way, no, that’s not there.

“We’re in a stretch of 38 games in 39 days [actually 36 in 37]. We’re rotating guys through as best we can to give a breather when needed. Xander’s got his breather today.”