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Red Sox Notebook

Martinez says he’s ready to return

Jon Lester reacts after Michael Saunders’s two-run homer breaks up his no-hit bid in the sixth. Jon Lester reacts after Michael Saunders’s two-run homer breaks up his no-hit bid in the sixth. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)
By Amalie Benjamin and Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 25, 2010

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SEATTLE — With his mitt outfitted with a splint and a protective barrier, Victor Martinez caught Clay Buchholz’s side session yesterday. It was a step that would demonstrate how close the catcher is to rejoining the roster, how his fractured left thumb feels.

He passed the test, coming out of the session a step closer to coming off the disabled list, something that is likely to happen on the trip to Anaheim that begins tomorrow.

“I’d say it’s a possibility,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “It’s not in concrete, it’s a possibility.’’

Martinez will spend today’s game in the bullpen, catching relievers set to enter the game. And Francona talked to general manager Theo Epstein yesterday, discussing Martinez’s readiness. The catcher said that he’s no longer in pain, and that catching Buchholz gave him license to feel ready to return to the club. Asked about any concerns, he said, “After today, not at all.’’

“I feel good,’’ he said. “It was a good test, catching Buchholz’s session. The only thing I can say is I’m pretty close. So we’ll see how it goes [today].’’

“It’s not fun at all when you’re used to playing every day and then watching your teammates playing so hard on the field. Just watching — it’s not fun at all.’’

Martinez fractured the thumb June 27 in a game against the Giants, when two foul tips bounced off the thumb. While it was initially believed he could be back after the All-Star break, the thumb remained painful and swollen. But it has gotten better in recent days, enough that the catcher could finally get his hand into a mitt.

The thumb also has affected his hitting from the right side. Martinez was spreading his hands apart while taking swings from that side in batting practice, but that has lessened as healing has improved. His hands have been moving closer together as he takes his swings.

“He’s doing pretty well,’’ Francona said of his hitting. “I don’t doubt that he’s going to feel this. I would be willing to guarantee. He hits a ball, doesn’t catch it clean, or he hits a ball on the end of the bat. He’s going to feel it for a while, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective.’’

Without Martinez (and the rest of the injured hitters), the Sox have struggled offensively. In their last 11 games, including their 5-1 loss last night, they have scored more than four runs only once.

“You’ve got your switch-hitter right smack in the middle, that would be good,’’ Francona said. “The idea is — we’ve been pretty consistent — is not trying to get guys back before they’re ready because then you get their name, but you don’t get their production. That’s not what we’re shooting for.’’

A happy return
Josh Beckett has been on the disabled list 10 times in his career. That has made him one of baseball’s foremost experts on how to get ready to pitch after a long layoff.

His latest stint was a lengthy one. Beckett went on the disabled list with a strained lower back May 18 and did not return until Friday night against the Seattle Mariners.

Beckett was fairly sharp, allowing one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings. He did not get the decision in a game the Red Sox won, 2-1, but that was almost incidental to his feeling good and hitting 95 miles per hour with his fastball.

“It’s something we’ve been working toward,’’ Beckett sad. “I had two months off, but it wasn’t like I didn’t pick up a baseball. We were definitely working towards this.’’

Beckett was not particularly impressive in two rehabilitation starts for Triple A Pawtucket. But rather than make a third start in the minors, he lobbied to throw a long bullpen session before being added to the roster.

On Tuesday in Oakland, he and pitching coach John Farrell went to work.

“It was nice to go out there and take care of that. John and I really sat down and figured out what we had to do,’’ Beckett said. “So much of the last three or four weeks was, ‘How do you feel? How do you feel? How do you feel?’ We were able to focus on the execution part of pitching.’’

Beckett was taken out of the game after allowing a two-out walk in the sixth inning. He had thrown 98 pitches.

“I thought he was really good,’’ Francona said, “but I thought he had had about enough.’’

Beckett thinks that his next start, Wednesday against the Angels, will be a normal one with no restrictions.

“We’re past that, and it’s time to get outs,’’ he said. “You can’t get outs off the field. I’m ready to get back at it now.’’

Injury update
Martinez isn’t the only injured Sox player making progress. Jacoby Ellsbury is likely to play in his first game since May 24 tomorrow, beginning his 20-day rehab clock with a game for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Ellsbury, who had five fractured ribs, has played in only nine games this season. The plan has him being the designated hitter tomorrow, then playing in the outfield Tuesday. If that goes as planned, then the outfielder could head up to Pawtucket. “He’s going to have to play a couple down there, at the minimum, then we’ll see how it goes,’’ Francona said . . . Third baseman Mike Lowell went 4 for 4 in the PawSox’ 12-7 loss in Columbus, Ohio, with three doubles and two RBIs. Lowell, who is expected to play first today, has been watched by a couple clubs, and his name has come up in connection with a possible trade to the Tigers, given the broken hand suffered by Brandon Inge. Teams, though, want to watch Lowell play in his rehab stint before talks heat up, according to a club source. It continues to be evident that Lowell doesn’t really have a place on this Sox team, having been rarely used before he went on the disabled list with the hip injury . . . Jason Varitek is expected to get a CT scan Friday, when Dustin Pedroia does as well. Pedroia will also be examined tomorrow in Anaheim.

HGH outlook
With the news coming on Thursday that baseball will test for HGH in the minor leagues, that brought on the talk in the Red Sox clubhouse. “We’d never agree to something like that unless something was given to us in a different area,’’ the Sox new union representative Daniel Bard said. “Because there’s got to be give and take with everything. While I think that is good for the game, we still have to protect members of the union. I don’t know if that’s a step in that direction, that’s something they’re trying to do in the future, but I guess we’ll see.’’ It’s likely something that could come up in the next collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire in December 2011 . . . Because Tim Wakefield was inserted into the rotation, and because of Thursday’s off day, most of the pitchers will get at least one extra day of rest, something the club often likes to do down the stretch.

Lester's 13 strikeouts were the most for a Sox pitcher since Beckett had 13 April 27, 2008, at Tampa Bay. The 13 strikeouts were the most for a Sox lefty since Bruce Hurst had 14 May 5, 1987 . . . The home run Lester allowed was just his third in 13 starts. Lester is just 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA in five career starts at Safeco Field, the home park for the Washington native . . . Mariners starter David Pauley tied a career high with five strikeouts. It was the first time that Pauley had started against Boston since playing in the organization from 2005 to 2007.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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