Buchholz, Beckett close to returns

BOSTON -- Clay Buchholz, no stranger to demotions to Double-A and Triple-A parks, is hoping this is it.

Sidelined the past three weeks with a pulled hamstring, Buchholz will start for the Pawtucket Red Sox on Friday in Syracuse, on a pitch count he estimated to be around 60. And then, if all goes to plan, he'll be right back up with the big leaguers for his next turn in the rotation.

"I said throughout spring training I don't want to go back down," Buchholz cracked to reporters following Wednesday's optional workout at Fenway Park. "Hopefully, this is a one-time deal."

Buchholz, who appeared at but did not pitch during the All-Star Game festivities in Los Angeles this week, estimates he's at "80 to 85 percent."

"It feels a lot better," he said. "There's still a few things that are kinda weak but aren't messing up anything as far as pitching goes. That was the main issue."

Speaking to reporters before the workout, manager Terry Francona repeated what he had said earlier in the day on the airwaves when asked about Buchholz's assignment.

"The thought was by that time he's pitched one inning in 20-something days. That's not very realistic that he's going to get very deep into the game," Francona said. "So the more we thought about it, we talked to him, and we were all in agreement that, go pitch three or four innings, go shake the rust off, make sure it's OK, we'll let [Felix] Doubront take that start [Friday against Texas], and we'll get him back into the rotation next time through."

Wednesday's workout was attended mostly by pitchers, including Buchholz -- who threw a side session and did lunges along the warning track -- Manny Delcarmen, Scott Atchison and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Darnell McDonald, Kevin Cash, Gustavo Molina, Daniel Nava and Jeremy Hermida (ribs) all took cuts in the batting cages. Jason Varitek (fractured right foot) was seen briefly in the clubhouse, crutches in tow; Dustin Pedroia (fractured left foot) was also in the building, but was not in the clubhouse during media availability. Both will be examined Friday.

As for the other injured parties:

•Delcarmen's lone inning Thursday night for the Sea Dogs in New Britain, Conn., will come right away. He can't remember the last time he started a game, but is no less eager.

"They called me [Tuesday], I'm supposed to just go out there and let it loose," Delcarmen said. "They talked to me over the phone and it sounded like a good idea, just build some adrenaline."

Josh Beckett will have a rehab start in Pawtucket on Saturday and could be back with the big club shortly after.

"It's certainly that one or one more," Francona said. "I don't think we're looking to do a whole lot more; I'm sure we'll sit down after this next one and see how he comes out of it, and see how he feels.

"We've been real patient, because we want Beckett to be Beckett. So to cut it short now wouldn't make much sense."

Adrian Beltre (strained hamstring) will get an MRI on Thursday, and Francona said the All-Star third baseman "wasn't too concerned about it".

"He was examined by [Dr. Lewis] Yocum out in L.A. and he didn't seem terribly concerned about it [either], so that was good," Francona said. "He had range of motion and all those types of things."

•General manager Theo Epstein confirmed that Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs) has been down in Fort Myers, Fla., for two full workouts so far, and that he's exceeded the hitting program they laid out for him. Epstein didn't want to give a timetable, however.

"A normal hitting program is two weeks," Epstein said. "The good news is that he's ahead of schedule."

Victor Martinez (broken left thumb) was not at the park Wednesday night, and will get examined Thursday to see if there is any further separation on the break.

"Right now he can't get his glove on," Francona said. "We're kind of at the mercy of the thumb."

•Epstein confirmed that Jeremy Hermida (ribs) will suit up as a designated hitter with the Portland Sea Dogs Thursday night through Saturday, in the Dogs' three-game series at New Britain. Hermida will then be re-evaluated at Fenway on Sunday.

Mike Lowell is expected to be at the ballpark on Thursday. Francona said he hasn't seen Lowell in a week so no decision has been made on when he might come off the DL.

Steinbrenner 'led the pack'

With the passing of George Steinbrenner on Monday has come many a colorful story about the polarizing, longtime Yankees owner. Epstein, no stranger to the Steinbrenner family, offered up a memory from his days with the Padres front office.

"I remember in '98, the Yanks swept us in the World Series, I was walking towards our clubhouse and he was storming by, getting ready to hit the champagne," Epstein said. "He had 50, 60 members of the media following him, giving him chase. He was sprint-walking down the tunnel there, with a direct vision to him. That's how I always remember him -- leading the pack, doing things his way. He was a great part of the rivalry, and he is the Yankees. He'll be missed."